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Cruising the Southern and Western Caribbean 2003 Ludmer 1588435113

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the Southern &
Western Caribbean
AGuide to the Ships
&the Ports of Call
Larry Ludmer
130 Campus Drive,Edison,NJ 08818
732-225-1900;800-255-0343;Fax 732-417-1744
Ulysses Travel Publications
4176 Saint-Denis,Montréal,Québec
Canada H2W2M5
514-843-9882,ext.2232;fax 514-843-9448
Windsor Books
The Boundary,Wheatley Road,Garsington
Oxford,OX44 9EJ England
01865-361122;Fax 01865-361133
ISBN 1-58843-353-6
© 2003 Hunter Publishing,Inc.
This and other Hunter travel guides are also
available as e-books fromHunter Publishing and through our
online partners,including,,and
All rights reserved.No part of this publication may be reproduced,
stored in a retrieval system,or transmitted in any form,or by any
means,electronic,mechanical,photocopying,recording,or other-
wise,without the written permission of the publisher.
This guide focuses on recreational activities.As all such activities con
tain elements of risk,the publisher,author,affiliated individuals and
companies disclaimresponsibility for any injury,harm,or illness that
may occur to anyone through,or by use of,the information in this
book.Every effort was made to insure the accuracy of information in
this book,but the publisher and author do not assume,and hereby
disclaim,liability for any loss or damage caused by errors,omissions,
misleading information or potential travel problems caused by this
guide,even if such errors or omissions result from negligence,acci
dent or any other cause.
Cover photo:
Holland America Line
Maps by Toni Carbone,KimAndré & Lissa Dailey,© 2003 Hunter
1 2 3 4
No author can write a travel guide without the assistance of others.
The sheer volume of facts that must be amassed requires that other
people get involved.Ship facts and information on which ships are
assigned to Western and Southern Caribbean routes were provided
by the media relations staff of the cruise lines.It is important tonote,
however,that their role in providing information and/or services to
me in no way affects what I have to say about a particular cruise line
or ship.I amespecially grateful for the special helpandconsideration
provided by Jennifer de la Cruz and Irene Lui of Carnival Cruises,and
Tori Bensonof Princess Cruises.All opinions expressedhere are based
on information gathered from a variety of objective sources and,
most importantly,by firsthand experience.
Just as youwill most likely obtainvaluable informationfromanexpe
rienced travel agent,so did I.Therefore,a large thanks also goes to
Jeffrey Pressner and the entire staff of CruiseAholics,a Las
Vegas-based cruise-only travel agency,which provided special assis-
This book is intended to serve as an information source for planning
a Caribbean cruise,as well as a companion to take with you on land
inthis beautiful region.It will enable bothfirst-time andexperienced
travelers to determine the particular cruise that’s right for themand,
once the trip has begun,to get the most enjoyment fromtheir time
on board and ashore.
Experienced travelers rarely get their information from one source,
and I wouldn’t expect that you would so limit yourself.Because the
port information is geared to the general traveler with only a single
day of time available,you should do further research if a particular
destination is of special interest to you.Obtaining a guidebook on
that place would be of great use.As you peruse this book you’ll learn
that a host of cruise lines serve the Caribbean.I encourage everyone
tovisit their local travel agent andgraba stack of cruise brochures.In
combination with the information in this book,they will further help
you to decide which ship is right for you.Always remember,how
ever,that glossy brochures are carefully designed to get your busi
ness.Be a thoughtful consumer.
Enjoy your cruise vacation!
Cruise Popularity 1
A Survey of the Southern & Western Caribbean 3
Types of Cruises 9
Cruise Lines Serving the Southern & Western Caribbean 9
Mass-Market Lines 10
Luxury Yacht Lines 13
Sailing Ships 13
Small Ships 14
Other Cruising Options 14
Setting Priorities:Selecting Your DreamCruise 16
The Ships 18
Carnival Cruise Line 21
Celebrity Cruises 28
Costa Cruises 32
Crystal Cruises 35
Disney Cruise Line 37
Holland America Line 38
Norwegian Cruise Line 44
Princess Cruises 51
Royal Caribbean International 54
Royal Olympia Cruise Line 61
How Big Are They?63
More To Come...63
Evaluating Ship Itineraries 64
Southern Itinerary 66
Western Itinerary 66
Ship Activities 66
Options in Port 69
Organized Shore Excursions 69
On Your Own 70
Complete Cruise Tours 71
Accommodations on Land 73
Climate & When to Go 74
Costs 76
Dining 78
Disabled Travelers 81
Discounts 82
Dress (On & Off the Ship) 83
Driving & Car Rentals 86
Electrical Appliances & Other Technical Tidbits 89
Financial Matters 89
Flight Arrangements 91
Gaming 92
Getting to Your Ship 92
Gratuities 94
Health 95
Passports,Customs & Other Considerations 97
Payments,Cancellations & Cruise Documents 98
Safety on Shore 99
Ship Security 102
Shopping 103
Sports & Recreation While in Port 104
Golf 103
Fishing 104
Hiking 105
Horseback Riding 104
Rafting 105
Sailing 105
Scuba Diving & Snorkeling 106
Swimming 105
Tennis 106
Wind Surfing 106
Telephone Service 106
Internet Service 107
Time Zones 108
Traveling With Children 108
Zo,It’s Your First Time Cruising...109
Gateway Ports 113
On-Board Sightseeing 115
TourismInformation 115
Seeing the Ports 116
Aruba 119
Oranjestad 119
Arrival 120
Tourist Information Office 120
Getting Around 120
One-Day Sightseeing Tours 122
Other Attractions 125
Shopping 127
Sports & Recreation 127
The Bahamas 129
Freeport (Port Lucaya) 130
Arrival 130
Tourist Information Office 130
Getting Around 130
One-Day Sightseeing Tour 132
Other Attractions 133
Shopping 133
Sports & Recreation 134
Nassau 135
Arrival 135
Tourist Information Office 135
Getting Around 135
One-Day Sightseeing Tour 136
Other Attractions 140
Shopping 141
Sports & Recreation 142
Private Islands 142
Castaway Cay 142
Coco Cay 142
Great Stirrup Cay 143
Half-Moon Cay 143
Princess Cays 143
Belize 145
Belize City 145
Arrival 145
Tourist Information Office 146
Getting Around 146
One-Day Sightseeing Tour 147
Other Attractions 148
Shopping 151
Sports & Recreation 151
Bonaire 153
Kralendijk 153
Arrival 153
Tourist Information Office 154
Getting Around 154
One-Day Sightseeing Tour 154
Other Attractions 156
Shopping 156
Sports & Recreation 156
Cayman Islands 156
Grand Cayman (George Town) 157
Arrival 158
Tourist Information Office 159
Getting Around 159
One-Day Sightseeing Tour 159
Other Attractions 161
Shopping 162
Sports & Recreation 163
Colombia 164
Cartagena 164
Tourist Information Office 165
Getting Around 165
One-Day Sightseeing Tour 165
Other Attractions 167
Shopping 167
Sports & Recreation 167
Less-Visited Ports 168
San Andrés Island 168
Santa Maria 168
Costa Rica 168
Puerto Limón 168
Arrival 170
Tourist Information Office 170
Getting Around 172
One-Day Sightseeing Tour 172
Other Attractions 175
Shopping 175
Sports & Recreation 175
Curaçao 177
Willemstad 177
Arrival 179
Tourist Information Office 179
Getting Around 179
One-Day Sightseeing Tour 180
Other Attractions 183
Shopping 185
Sports & Recreation 185
Dominican Republic 186
La Romana (Casa de Campo) 187
Arrival 187
Tourist Information Office 187
Getting Around 187
One-Day Sightseeing Tour 187
Other Attractions 188
Shopping 188
Sports & Recreation 188
Santo Domingo 190
Arrival 190
Tourist Information Office 190
Getting Around 191
One-Day Sightseeing Tour 191
Other Attractions 192
Shopping 193
Sports & Recreation 193
Less-Visited Ports 195
Puerto Plata 195
Florida 195
Key West 195
Arrival 197
Tourist Information Office 197
Getting Around 197
One-Day Sightseeing Tour 198
Other Attractions 200
Shopping 201
Sports & Recreation 201
Haiti 201
Labadee Island 201
Jamaica 202
Kingston 202
Arrival 203
Tourist Information Office 203
Getting Around 203
One-Day Sightseeing Tour 205
Other Attractions 207
Shopping 208
Sports & Recreation 209
Montego Bay 209
Arrival 209
Tourist Information Office 209
Getting Around 211
One-Day Sightseeing Tour 211
Other Attractions 212
Shopping 213
Sports & Recreation 214
Ocho Rios 214
Arrival 214
Tourist Information Office 214
Getting Around 214
One-Day Sightseeing Tour 217
Other Attractions 219
Shopping 219
Sports & Recreation 220
Port Antonio 220
Arrival 220
Tourist Information Office 222
Getting Around 222
One-Day Sightseeing Tour 222
Other Attractions 224
Shopping 224
Sports & Recreation 224
Mexico 225
Cancún 225
Arrival 225
Tourist Information Office 227
Getting Around 227
One-Day Sightseeing Tour 227
Other Attractions 228
Shopping 229
Sports & Recreation 230
Costa Maya 231
Arrival 231
Tourist Information Office 231
Getting Around 231
One-Day Sightseeing Tour 232
Other Attractions 233
Shopping 234
Sports & Recreation 234
Cozumel 234
Arrival 235
Tourist Information Office 236
Getting Around 236
One-Day Sightseeing Tour 236
Other Attractions 238
Shopping 238
Sports & Recreation 238
Playa del Carmen 239
Arrival 239
Tourist Information Office 240
Getting Around 240
One-Day Sightseeing Tour 240
Other Attractions 242
Shopping 242
Sports & Recreation 243
Progreso/Mérida 243
Arrival 243
Tourist Information Office 244
Getting Around 244
One-Day Sightseeing Tour 244
Option 1:The City of Mérida 246
Option 2:Chichén Itzá 247
Option 3:Uxmal and Kabah 249
Other Attractions 251
Shopping 252
Sports & Recreation 252
Less-Visited Ports 252
Veracruz 252
Panama 253
Colón 253
Arrival 253
Tourist Information Office 253
Getting Around 253
One-Day Sightseeing Tour 254
Other Attractions 255
Shopping 255
Sports & Recreation 255
Less-Visited Ports 256
San Blas 256
Puerto Rico 256
San Juan 258
Arrival 258
Tourist Information Office 260
Getting Around 260
One-Day Sightseeing Tour 260
Other Attractions 263
Around the Island 264
Excursion 1 264
Excursion 2 265
Shopping 266
Sports & Recreation 266
Trinidad & Tobago 267
Port of Spain 268
Arrival 268
Tourist Information Office 268
Getting Around 268
One-Day Sightseeing Tour 270
Suggested Itinerary 271
Alternative Itinerary 272
Other Attractions 273
Shopping 273
Sports & Recreation 273
Less-Visited Ports 274
Scarborough (Tobago Island) 274
US Virgin Islands 274
St.Thomas (Charlotte Amalie) 275
Arrival 275
Tourist Information Office 275
Getting Around 277
One-Day Sightseeing Tour 277
Touring the Island 277
Charlotte Amalie 281
Other Attractions 283
Shopping 283
Sports & Recreation 284
Venezuela 285
Isla de Margarita 285
Arrival 286
Tourist Information Office 286
Getting Around 286
One-Day Sightseeing Tour 286
Other Attractions 288
Shopping 288
Sports & Recreation 289
Less-Visited Ports 289
La Guaira 289
Puerto Ordaz 290
Other Ports 290
Guatemala 290
Santo Tomás de Castilla 290
Honduras 290
Isla de Roatán 290
Puerto Cortés 291
Caribbean 2
Aruba 118
Oranjestad 121
New Providence 131
Nassau 137
Belize 144
Belize City 146
Vicinity of Belize City 150
Bonaire 152
Grand Cayman 158
Costa Rica 169
Puerto Limón 170
Central San José 171
San José & Surrounding Areas 174
Curaçao 176
Willemstad Area 178
Dominican Republic 189
Santo Domingo 194
Key West 196
Jamaica 203
New Kingston 204
Montego Bay 210
Ocho Rios 215
Ocho Rios Region 216
Port Antonio 221
Yucatán 226
Cozumel 235
Merida 245
Puerto Rico 257
Old San Juan 259
Trinidad & Tobago 269
Port of Spain 270
St.Thomas 276
Charlotte Amalie 278
Downtown Charlotte Amalie 280
The World Of
Caribbean Cruising
Cruise Popularity
nce reserved almost exclusively for those with lots of money to
spend on leisure time,cruising has become one of the most pop
ular forms of travel.There are many reasons for this,not the least of
which is that today’s cruise ships offer good value for whatever level
of luxury your budget will bear.Other things that attract people to
cruising are the variety of activities available on these floating re-
sorts,the fact that it is a comprehensive all-in-one vacation,and the
romanticismandluxury associatedwiththe experience.The ability to
see several different and often exotic places in a single vacation is
also,no doubt,an important factor.
Some people have never taken a cruise because they believe the cost
of such a trip would be too high for their budget.While it may seem
high at first,you’ll soon realize that,because your fare includes
almost all of your expenses,a cruise vacation can be surprisingly
The Caribbean is,far and away,the most popular cruise destination
in the world.During 2001,just over one-third of all cruise line pas
sengers worldwide sailed in the Caribbean.This amounted to well
over two million people – more than twice as many as the second
most popular cruise destination,the Mediterranean.Precise figures
on the breakdown of Caribbean markets aren’t as reliable,but there
is little doubt that the eastern Caribbean has the single largest share.
On the other hand,combined passenger totals for the southern and
western Caribbean almost equal that of the eastern section,and
exceed it if you include Puerto Rico and St.Thomas.
Cruise Popularity
ASurvey of the Southern &
Western Caribbean
Geographically Speaking
The Caribbean Sea is a subdivision of the Atlantic Ocean.The border
betweenthe seaandthe oceanproper is formedby the Greater Antil
les on the north and the Lesser Antilles on the east.The Bahamas,
which lie to the northeast of the Greater Antilles,technically aren’t
part of the Caribbean.SouthAmerica forms the southernedge of the
Caribbean,while Central America and Mexico’s Yucatán coast lie
along the western edge.The Yucatán Channel between Mexico and
the westernendof Cuba is the dividingpoint betweenthe Caribbean
and the Gulf of Mexico.This body of water (along with the Straits of
Florida that separate that state fromCuba) is not part of the Carib-
bean as far as geographers are concerned.For travelers,the distinc-
tion isn’t of great importance.The Caribbean has an east-to-west
length of about 1,500 miles and varies in its north-to-south dimen-
sions from400 to about 900 miles.Covering approximately 750,000
square miles,it is the second largest of all seas,exceeded only by the
SouthChina Sea.However,it is only a scant 2,000square miles larger
than the third-place Mediterranean.With an average depth over
8,400feet,the Caribbeanis the deepest of the world’s major seas.
The name of the seacomes fromthe Caribtribe that
livedhere at the time of the Europeandiscoveries.
This book covers only a portion of the Caribbean,the Southern and
Western regions.Cruise lines themselves oftenclassify specific itiner
aries as being eastern,western or southern Caribbean,but the vari
ous lines also define them differently.The most common
classification of the Caribbean islands is as either the Greater or
Lesser Antilles,witheverythingtothe east of PuertoRicoandthe Vir
gin Islands being in the Lesser Antilles.Generally,the Lesser Antilles,
along with Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands,is considered to be the
eastern Caribbean.This includes St.Martin,Antigua,St.Kitts &
Grenada,all of which are well described in Hunter Publishing’s
Cruising the Caribbean the Eastern Caribbean:A Guide to the Ports
of Call.
Geographically Speaking
The following (plus Puerto Rico and St.Thomas) are covered in this
Southern Caribbean:Aruba,Bonaire and Curaçao (collectively
known as the ABC Islands),and Trinidad &Tobago.A growing num
ber of South American ports are also visited on southern Caribbean
cruises,among them Cartagena in Colombia and Venezuela’s
Margarita Island.
Western Caribbean:The Bahamas,the island of Hispaniola (Domini
can Republic and Haiti),Jamaica,and the Cayman Islands.This
region also includes Key West and ports on the Caribbean coast of
Mexico and Central America.
The Islands &Their People
While muchof the Caribbeanshares commonthreads intheir histori
cal development and their people,the same cannot be said for the
fringes of the Caribbean region – notably Mexico and Central Amer-
The original inhabitants of the Caribbean were the peaceful Ara-
waks.They are thought to have arrived about 2,000 years ago from
South America.Although they were separated into distinct tribes,all
shared a common language.They achieved a fairly high level of cul-
tural development,but were essentially wiped out sometime after
1200 AD,when the more aggressive Carib tribes arrived,also from
South America.Their artistic skills were not as high as the Arawaks,
but they were accomplished hunters and fighters,making them a
thorn in the side of the Europeans for some time.
Christopher Columbus discovered a large number of the Caribbean
islands on his four voyages to the area under the flag of Spain.How
ever,the Spaniards were more interested in searching for gold and
concentrated their efforts in Mexico,South America,and what was
eventually to become the southern part of the United States.Except
for a small Spanish settlement on Trinidad,it wasn’t until the 1620s
that the Caribbean’s first permanent European settlement was
established on St.Kitts.It wasn’t long before the English arrived,fol
lowed by the French and the Dutch.Colonial rivalry was intense and
these powers were,more often than not,at war with one another.
This wasn’t always because of the importance of the colonies.
Rather,many of the wars that were fought over a period of more
than two centuries were extensions of conflicts in Europe itself,just
as the colonial wars of North America often were.Ownership of the
A Survey of the Southern & Western Caribbean
islands changedhands frequently,as evidencedonmany islands that
now have such mixed cultures.
At first most of the colonial agriculture inthe Caribbeanwas devoted
to tobacco and other crops that were not labor-intensive.That all
changed with the success of sugarcane,which soon became the
most profitable agricultural crop.Large plantations were developed,
but the number of native Caribs available to work the plantations
wasn’t sufficient.Never that numerous to begin with,their numbers
had been reduced by harsh European colonial policy,especially by
the Spaniards.The solution was the importation of slaves from
Africa.By around 1700,there were more Africans in the Caribbean
than their white masters.When the slave trade finally ended in the
19th century,more than two million blacks had been imported,five
times more than the number brought into the United States.
The reduction in profitability of sugarcane resulting fromthe aboli
tion of slavery caused widespread economic problems throughout
the Caribbean in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.This was one
of the major factors behind the increasing and often violent opposi-
tion to colonial rule.The more liberal British colonial administration
led the way in promoting at least some form of home rule.Over a
period of about 40 years (beginning in the 1930s) the majority of
Caribbean islands earnedtheir independence.Afeware still colonies
andsome (mainly the FrenchandDutchislands) are technically incor-
porated into their European homelands.The Dutch islands have
muchgreater local autonomy thantheir Frenchcounterparts.Today,
the degree of economic prosperity varies widely fromone island to
another.However,tourism is a major player in just about every
island’s economy.
The people of the Caribbean islands are unique culturally.Although
the overwhelming majority of people are descendants of African
slaves,their culture is a combination.Certain islands have a distinct
British cultural side,while others are more French or Dutch.Asignifi
cant number of Asians (especially from the subcontinent) are also
part of the mix.The inhabitants have added their own cultural ele
ments that go back to the days when they were oppressed by colo
nial masters,which is reflected in both religion and language.
Although most islanders are either Protestant or Catholic,elements
of tribal religious practices have beenincorporated.Rastafarians are,
for example,an African-Christian group that are most numerous on
Jamaica but exist throughout the Caribbean.
The “official” language is almost always that of the island’s former
colonial heritage – that is,English,French or Dutch.However,a local
dialect called Creole (or patois) is common,especially in islands
The Islands & Their People
whose heritage includes more than one colonial master.English is
widely spoken throughout the southern and western Caribbean
islands.However,the melodic manner of speaking and the liberal
use of locally developed words and expressions gives the English a
unique sound that is delightful (except when you’re trying to get
directions correctly).
The Way to See the Caribbean
Except for a handful of people who have their own boat,there are
only a fewways of travelingthroughthe islands.The first optionis to
charter a boat.You and your family can be captain and crewif you
have the necessary navigational experience.If not,the charter com
pany will provide a crew for you.This is a costly way to see the
Caribbean.For most people,it is not a viable option.But if chartering
interests you,most travel agents can put you in touch with brokers
who arrange both on-your-own rentals and and charter rentals with
The second method is to travel by air.There are numerous flights
between the various islands,as well as reasonably convenient con-
nections to most American cities.However,this can become a very
expensive propositionwas,with a lot of time wasted getting to and
from the airports and waiting for flights.Don’t forget that cruise
ships do much of their traveling overnight while you are sleeping.If
you are going to one place for several days or are visiting only one or
two ports,flying is a good choice.But air-hopping between islands
can become rather tiresome if you plan on seeing three or four
islands,which is what most cruises will do.
Although there are regularly scheduled ferry services connecting a
number of Caribbean islands,this is not a practical way to travel.It is
somewhat easier to use ferries in the eastern portion of the Carib
bean,where the islands are closer to one another and more services
are available.But,even there,frequent services are the exception
rather than the rule,so figuring out a workable itinerary can become
a problem.Ferries become fewer as the islands spread out more
heading westward and southward.
Cruising is our top choice for Caribbean travel.But we should still
take a close look at both the advantages and disadvantages.
Advantages of Cruising
Acruise is a complete package vacation,withanallowance for youto
do your own thing at ports of call,as well as before and after the
A Survey of the Southern & Western Caribbean
cruise.It’s great if you don’t like to plan all the details of a compre
hensive vacation.A cruise allows you to combine different types of
vacation experiences in one trip.For those who like to be on the go,
there is plenty tosee anddointhe ports,while the traveler whoseeks
rest and relaxation will find plenty of that on board ship.Although
the Caribbean travel scene is dominated by American visitors,many
of the islands do have a distinctively foreign flavor.Strange lan
guages and foods generally aren’t a problem,although you will
encounter themin port.However,you can avoid most problems by
taking guided excursions offered by the cruise line.
Cruise line advertising always boasts that they actually save you
money over a land-based vacation because you don’t have addi
tional costs for hotels,food,and so on.This is only partially true.If
you like to stay at very expensive hotels and dine in the finest restau
rants,then you may consider a cruise an absolute bargain.But
although there are a variety of cruise price categories,there aren’t
any truly “budget” cruises among the main lines.
Disadvantages of Cruising
A week-long cruise normally covers about four ports of call.Even
thoughmost sailingis done overnight,cruisingis aslowway totravel
and if you want to be on land every day,the only way to do so would
be to island-hop by air.The biggest potential problemin cruising is
the amount of time allowed on shore.Cruise liners generally stay
between six and 12 hours at most ports.When you subtract time for
getting on and off ship,lunch and other matters,you will almost
always findyourself withless thaneight hours tosee the sights,shop
or do whatever appeals to you in port.The goodnews is that most of
the islands and their port cities are quite small,so this is far less of a
problemin the Caribbean than it is,for example,in Europe,where a
single day inmany of its great port cities canonly touchthe surface.
Another potential drawback is for the independent-minded traveler
wholikes toplanall the details of a trip.Obviously,youhave a degree
of flexibility in port,but you don’t have all that much choice when it
comes to the itinerary.You don’t have the choice of telling the cap
tain where you want to stop each day!
The Way to See the Caribbean
The Cruise Lines &Ships
Types of Cruises
he majority of Caribbeancruises share many commonattributes
and even common ports of call,but the available variety may
come as a big surprise.Caribbean cruises are most frequently one
week long (eight days and seven nights,although on the eighth day
you get off the ship early in the morning).They often begin and end
on either Saturday or Sunday,but this is not always the case.If a
week is toolongfor you,it is quite easy tofindCaribbeancruises that
are as short as two nights.At the other end,you will find cruises as
long as 10 nights.Two-week Caribbean cruises are more rare,but
they are out there if youhunt hardenough.Those whowishtocruise
for two weeks can sometimes do so by taking “back to back” cruises.
This is an option on those cruise ships that alternate itineraries from
one week to the next.In such cases,you can remain on board when
the ship returns to its port and then take the second week cruise,
which saves having to change ships.
The major other distinction is where the ships go.The Caribbean is
large enough,bothgeographically andas a cruisingmarket,toallow
segmentation by region.The eastern,western and southern regions
are the usual designations,although not every cruise line includes
the same islands in these regions.Cruises of less than four nights
always depart from southern Florida and visit the Bahamas.
Week-long cruises can have any number of embarkation points.
Cruise Lines Serving the
Southern &Western Caribbean
the majority of the major cruise lines have extensive Caribbean
itineraries tochoose from,but don’t assume that they will always
have something to suit your interests.The following list of cruise
lines serving the Caribbean gives a brief rundown of each line’s ser
vice as well as a short summary of the fleet.
Mass-Market Lines
“Mass-market” isn’t used in a derogatory way here.It simply means
that these cruise lines appeal to the broadest section of the traveling
public.They generally have the most ships in service on Caribbean
routes andalsofeature the newest andoftenlargest of today’s ships.
The cruise line profiles that followare meant only tointroduce youto
the main choices and to categorize their styles.Further details are
provided in the individual ship descriptions that followin The Ships
section,page 18.
Carnival Cruise Linea, (800) 327-9501,
world’s largest cruise line nowhas a fleet of 19self-proclaimed“fun”
ships and 18 of them are on various Caribbean routes either all or
part of the year,covering a wide spectrum of ports in all regions.
They are at the top of the list in terms of ships serving the Caribbean.
Carnival also has more US embarkation ports than any other line.
They have been introducing newships into their fleet with amazing
frequency (more are under construction andin the planningstage as
you read this) and even their older ships aren’t particularly old.In
addition,almost all of their ships are quite large,with most being in
the mega-liner category.Carnival provides a very competent cruise
experience at a competitive price and strives for a mostly informal
andfunatmosphere,goodfor bothcouples andfamilies.They target
the average person.
Celebrity Cruises, (800) 437-3111,
Celebrity has a total fleet of nine ships,eight of which are serving the
Caribbean market for at least part of the year (the ninth does briefly
make it into the Caribbean on trans-Panama Canal cruises).It is one
of several lines that plays a transitional role between the Carni
val/Princess-type ships and the more sophisticated luxury lines.You
can expect to pay somewhat more for that slight upgrade,which
may or may not be worth it to you.Celebrity’s ships are both modern
and beautiful.They are generally large,but not as big as most ships
in the other mass-market lines.Celebrity visits just about all of the
Caribbean’s major ports,so finding a suitable itinerary shouldn’t
present any problem.
Costa Cruises,(800) 462-6782, Ital
ianline is better knowninEurope,but it has twoof the finest ships in
Cruise Lines Serving the Southern & Western Caribbean
its large fleet sailing the Caribbean during the winter.“Cruising Ital
ian Style” is their motto,and Costa does a good job providing a
mostly casual and highly entertaining experience.Because they are a
smaller player in the Caribbean they compete by offering very attrac
tive fares.The level of amenities,service and cuisine is on a par with
the better-known American lines.Because they have fewer ships in
Caribbean service,they obviously have fewer itineraries fromwhich
to choose.
Crystal Cruises, (800) 446-6620,
line comes as close as possible to the luxury yacht class without quite
crossing over the border.Their three gorgeous ships are among the
smaller vessels serving the major lines in the Caribbean.However,
both in size and in style,they are more like mass-market ships than,
for instance,the luxury yachts of Seabourn.For that reason,I have
included them in this group.You will definitely find that the prices
are much higher than the other mass-market cruise lines.But,for
your extra dollars,you will get a considerably higher level of luxury
andservice.Crystal clearly caters more toupscale couples,sofamilies
are probably better off looking elsewhere for their cruise.Itineraries
are somewhat limited because of the relative size of their fleet.In
addition,none of their ships remains in the Caribbean for the entire
Disney Cruise Line,(800) 951-3532,
is “the” cruise line for families traveling with small children.Disney’s
two ships have recently introduced a western Caribbean itinerary to
go with their other cruises out of Port Canaveral.But with only two
ships and a lot of time devoted to nearby destinations fromcentral
Florida,their itinerary choice for southern and western ports is the
most limitedof the mass-market lines.The emphasis at Disney is ona
mostly casual and fun-filled cruise with plenty of activities for all
ages.Their ships are both modern and very much in line with con
temporary mainstream cruise ships.Their success has resulted in a
price scale that is not cheap,although they do have some prices that
are among the lowest of any major cruise line.
Holland America, (800) 426-0327,
The most traditional of the major players in the Caribbean market,
HAL’s fleet has,with the introduction of several newships,grown to
a total of a dozen vessels.They are currently featuring nine of these
on a wide variety of itineraries throughout the entire Caribbean.
Most of their ships can be considered as mid-size in today’s world of
cruising.A passenger count of about 1,500 people is their norm,
considerably less thanthe 2,000-plus average inmost newships,but
muchlarger thanthe thousand-personcount found,for instance,on
Crystal.The style of their ships and the nature of the service,as well
Mass-Market Lines
as the overall cruise experience,is somewhat more formal thanmany
of the mass-market lines and is more in keeping with what cruising
was like 20 or 30 years ago.For some people,that is exactly what
makes Holland America such an attractive choice.HAL’s fare struc
ture is only a little higher than average.
Norwegian Cruise Line,(800) 327-7030, has
introduced several new ships in recent years and,although it isn’t
one of the five largest cruise lines world-wide,it does rank up with
the biggies whenit comes toofferinga huge range of Caribbeandes
tinations.With the introduction of their ninth ship in late 2002,Nor
wegian currently has seven different vessels serving the region
during at least part of the year (although two of themhave very lim
ited Caribbean departure dates and itineraries).Norwegian has an
undeniable popularity because it provides a fine cruise experience on
lovely ships at areasonable price.Althoughonly acouple of their ves
sels are true mega-class vessels,NCL’s attractive “Freestyle Cruising”
programoffers a greater degree of flexibility indininganddress than
any other major cruise line.Their prices are generally at the lower end
of the scale.
Princess Cruises,(800) 774-6237, is
a little surprising that,given the size of the Caribbean market,only
five of Princess’ large 15-ship (and still growing) fleet are slated for
these runs during the 2003-2004 season.However,with some
switches and additions,this figure is predicted to rise to six ships
within a few years.The original “Love Boat” is no longer in service,
but Princess,which in many ways is responsible for today’s great
cruise popularity,continues to be an innovator in terms of flexibility
regarding such things as on-board dining and facilities.Their sleek
and modern ships are all beautiful and the majority are in the
mega-liner category.Although Princess developed its following
through its romantic appeal to couples,today’s line is just as
family-oriented as the other true mass-market lines.Pricing is com
petitive with the rest of this class,although it tends to be somewhat
higher than Carnival.The choice of itineraries and ports is fairly var
ied,but not as extensive as those lines with more ships.
Royal Caribbean International, (800) 327-6700, is no denying that Royal Caribbean
is,along with Carnival,the giant of Caribbean cruising.Right now
they have a 17-ship fleet,with three more coming in 2004.All but
one of their ships spend at least some time in the Caribbean.Thus,
youwill findanamazingvariety of itineraries.Only Carnival has more
ships both overall and in the Caribbean – and then only by the slim
mest margin.They have a growing number of Voyager class vessels,
with capacities in excess of 3,000 passengers.These are the biggest
Cruise Lines Serving the Southern & Western Caribbean
cruise ships in the world and are likely to remain so for at least a few
years.Royal Caribbean offers a fine and mostly casual cruise experi
ence at a price in the normal range of most mass-market lines.While
not quite reaching the sophistication level of Celebrity,there is no
reason why the typical cruise traveler should have anything less than
an outstanding experience on Royal Caribbean,one of the most
respected names in the cruise business.
Royal Olympia, (800) 872-6400,
Concentrating mostly on the Yucatán coast of Mexico rather than
the Caribbean islands,this Greek cruise line has its two newest and
nicest ships on these routes.The ships are among the smallest of the
mass-market cruise lines,but have the style and most of the ameni
ties of the newer and larger ships.Their prices are somewhat higher
than many of the larger lines,but that has to be expected on smaller
ships where economies of scale aren’t available to the operator.The
cruise experience is on the casual side,geared more toward couples
than families.
Luxury Yacht Lines
There are several luxury lines that offer cruises on smaller vessels.
These can range in size fromas few as 150 passengers to a high of
around650.But eventhe largest of this groupof ships provide a level
of service and luxury well above the mainstream cruise operators.
Because of the more limited appeal of these very expensive lines,the
individual shipdetails will not be includedfor this group.The ships of
these lines tend to have different itineraries throughout the season,
thereby providing travelers with a choice that is greater than one
would expect fromtheir generally smaller fleets.
Radisson Seven Seas, (800) 285-1835,
Seabourn Cruise Line, (800) 929-9391,
Silversea, (800) 722-9955,
Sailing Ships
Another more expensive alternative to regular cruising is to see the
Caribbean on a sailing ship.These luxury or near-luxury cruises offer
romanticism and a bit of the past.Some have motorized back-up
while others are true sailing ships like the tall ships of a bygone era.
Passenger counts range fromabout 100 to200 inmost cases.Sailing
ships are,of course,not as fast as motorizedvessels sosome of these
Luxury Yacht Lines
cruises visit fewer ports.This is especially true in the southern and
western regions of the Caribbean,where the ports aren’t as close as
in the Antilles island group.As a result,the available selection of
cruises is more limited.Again,ship details for this group are not
included here.
Star Clippers, (800) 442-0551,
Windstar, (800) 258-7245,
Windjammer, (800) 327-2601,
Small Ships
The “small” ship cruise experience is provided by a number of opera
tors.These vessels usually carry fewer than150people and,although
attractive,they have fewfacilities.They are more for the person who
seeks an in-depth shore experience,rather than a true luxury cruise.
The small ship concept,which began in earnest in Alaska,has now
spread to many parts of the world.Once again,however,the major-
ity of these cruises ply the eastern Caribbean.Two popular operators
who do offer southern and western itineraries are:
American Canadian Caribbean Cruise Line, (800) 556-7450,
Clipper Cruise Line, (800) 325-0010,
Another option in the small-ship category is to travel on a private
yacht.People with sufficient sailing experience can rent a vessel and
be their own captain and crew.Non-sailors can also rent a crew
along with the boat.Either way,this is a very expensive way to travel
and is not practical for the vast majority of travelers.
Other Cruising Options
he numerous cruise lines discussedtothis point are not the only
ones withCaribbeanitineraries,althoughthey certainly dorepre
sent those with the greatest choice.Here are a fewmore alternatives
that you may wish to consider.
Cunard,(800) 728-6273, grand-daddy of
all cruise lines,Cunard has only limited Caribbean itineraries for a
part of the year.They are a more expensive operator and cater to the
well-heeled traveler who prefers traditional-style cruising.Their new
flagship,the Queen Mary II,is slated to enter service in late 2003 and
Cruise Lines Serving the Southern & Western Caribbean
will be the largest ship in the world.It has been designed mainly for
ocean cruising so its Caribbean service will be limited,as with other
Cunard vessels.
First European, (888) 983-8767,
Known as Festival Cruises in Europe,this Italian company has a small
number of southern and western Caribbean itineraries during the
winter season,using mostly their newest and best ships.These are
referred to as their “Premium” class vessels and are on a par with
ships from the mass-market lines.It’s unlikely that non-Premium
ships will ever be used in the Caribbean but,if they are,I suggest
avoiding them.
Fred.Olsen,(800) 843-0602,
ish company with Norwegian heritage,Fred.Olsen operates several
smaller,traditional-style vessels.Their Caribbean itineraries tend to
be longer than a week and visit many unusual ports,some of which
are unique to this line.The cost isn’t low.Unfortunately,most of
their ships are showing their age.
MSC Italian Cruises (MSC), (800) 666-9333,www.msccruisesusa.
com.An Italian company formerly called Mediterranean Shipping
Cruises (thus,MSC),they are best known in Europe for their older
and smaller ships.MSC does have a decent selection of cruises that
get as close to“budget” as any ships,for those whodon’t necessarily
desire a luxury experience or require the facilities of the larger ships.
MSC,in trying to keep up with the Joneses,now has several new
ships under construction.These will be introduced over several years
beginning in late 2003.
Regal Cruise Line,(800) 270-7245,
one ship,the Regal Empress,is a somewhat older but nice mid-size
vessel that offers a variety of Caribbean itineraries at reasonable
prices.It’s a throwback to the more traditional era of cruising and
that will appeal to some.
Sun Cruises, affordable
cruises ona pleasant mid-size shipnamedSunbird(embarkationand
disembarkation at Aruba),this British tour operator offers an option
that the budget traveler might wish to consider.Information and
reservations are available through Vacation Express, (800)
For those with time and budget constraints,there are a number of
ship operators offering overnight cruises fromMiami and Fort Laud
erdale to Freeport or Nassau in the Bahamas.Some people extend
these into longer vacations by staying overnight in the islands.Vari
Other Cruising Options
ous package deals offered by the ship line can also be used to turn a
five-hour cruise into a longer vacation.
Setting Priorities:
Selecting Your DreamCruise
he Caribbean is the number one destination for cruising in the
world and there are more cruise lines and cruise ships serving all
of the Caribbean than anywhere else.That means itineraries almost
too numerous to count.So,how does one go about selecting the
best cruise?“Best” means different things to different people.It all
depends on what is most important to you.Let’s take a look at the
three main factors that will determine the right cruise for you.
The Cruise Line
Each line has a cruise style or personality that is reflected in all of the
ships of that line.Do you want a sophisticated luxury experience or a
more fun-oriented cruise?Do you like refined elegance in the ship’s
public areas or is glitz more your style?Is this a romantic getaway for
two or a family affair?These and many other questions can help nar-
rowdown which cruise lines are in the running for your dollars.To a
large degree,your available budget will also help determine what
line or lines to consider.Silversea is a lot more expensive than Carni
val,for example.You have to judge howmuch certain features of a
cruise line (and the ship) are worth to you.
The Ship
Many shipfeatures are determinedby the line that owns them.How
ever,even within specific cruise lines,there can be great variation in
age,size,facilities and even style.Again,you must ask yourself what
is important to you.
The Ports of Call
Look for anitinerary that hits more of the places youwant tosee than
other itineraries.Evaluate the time spent in ports and see if it allows
Setting Priorities:Selecting Your DreamCruise
time for you to cover the points of interest and activities that you
want.Also consider the amount of port time vs.time spent at sea.If
you like port-intensive itineraries as opposed to spending leisurely
days onthe great blue sea,thenpick anitinerary that has ports closer
together and spends less time getting fromone to another.
Wrapping it all up and weighing the relative merits of these three
factors isn’t always easy.Keep in mind that Caribbean cruising is dif
ferent than cruising to,for example,Alaska.There,the cruise is often
the thing because you can’t get to many of the important places of
interest except by ship.Poorer weather conditions also means the
ship is less of a floating resort.In the Mediterranean,as another
example,some of the great cities of Europe are the drawin addition
to the cruise.While the islands and ports of the Caribbean have
unique charms and are worth seeing,most people come for the
cruising experience.Therefore,when choosing a Caribbean cruise,
the shipitself is more important andthe ports less so,as comparedto
Alaska or the Mediterranean.
There are many sources for general information on the cruise lines
and on cruising itself.The cruise line brochures are a necessary piece
of literature before you make any decision,but always keep in mind
that these are,first andforemost,marketingtools for the cruise lines.
As a result,they’re far from objective.Websites about cruise ships
exist,althoughhere,too,many are runby travel agencies lookingfor
business or feature only certain cruise lines.The Cruise Lines Inter-
national Association (CLIA) is an industry organization composed
of most of the major cruise lines.Their website,,
also paints the experience in a purely positive light,as you might
expect.However,a wealth of information,statistical and otherwise,
can be found there.You can also call CLIA at (212) 921-0066.
Watch Out For Those Glossy Brochures!
The brochures published by each cruise line contain lots of
useful information.However,these slick marketing tools
can also contain a lot of “stretching the truth,” if not out
right lies.Some stress features that are largely irrelevant.
That shouldn’t surprise anyone experienced with the tech
niques of Madison Avenue and all lines are guilty.Here are a
fewof my favorite examples of the nonsense often found in
the brochures:
The Ports of Call
”...the youngest fleet in the Caribbean.” With the way
new ships keep coming on line,almost all the major
lines have the youngest fleet.
”...over 500 staterooms with private balcony.” What
difference does it make to you how many rooms have
balconies?If you want a balcony and you get the one
room that has it,do you really care who else has the
same thing?
”Our staterooms are more than 25% larger than other
cruise lines.” Or 50%.Howabout 100%?I have no idea
where they get these statistics.
”...big ship with an intimate feel.” Sure,especially
when 2,500 people are all trying to get off at the same
time.Big ships are big.Period.Lots of people like big
ships because of all their features!
”Our guests have more fun than anyone!” If that were
true than every line would copy this formula and there
would be no variation.Different people like different
Don’t get me wrong – I absolutely love cruising.And all the
major lines eachhave their ownvariations ona fine product.
But it’s still a good idea to read those brochures with a hefty
degree of skepticism.
The Ships
hip descriptions are organized below by cruise line.Each line’s
listing begins with information on the nationality of their ship’s
officers (that is,the uniformed “bridge” personnel) and then the rest
of the crew.As there has been a trend toward mixed nationalities in
recent years,ships having such a crewwill be designated by the term
international.The country or countries where the line registers its
ships are alsoshown.While I don’t personally consider the registry to
be of any great importance,many cruise travelers seemto want this
itemof information.The introduction for each line concludes with a
description of features common to all ships in the fleet.It also gives
yousome insight intothe style of the cruise by providinginformation
on such things as the dining experience,the service,and so forth.
This last part will be omittedfor Disney Cruise Line andRoyal Olympic
Cruise Line because each of these has only two sister-ships in Carib
The Ships
bean service.Thus,the ship descriptions themselves will provide
cruise-style information.
For eachship(or class of ships) we give statistics,followedby a narra
tive shipdescription.Most of the statistics are self-explanatory;how
ever,a few items do require clarification.
Year Built refers tothe year that the shipwas first placedinservice.A
second date in brackets will indicate the year of the most recent
major refurbishment.However,this will be shown only if the ship
was originally placed into service prior to 1995 since any refurbish
ment on newer ships was either minor in nature or,most likely,not
necessary in the first place!
Beamis a nautical term that simply means the maximum width of
the ship.
Passengers is the number of guests the ship can carry,based on
double-occupancy.Since many ships have at least some staterooms
that canaccommodate athirdor fourthperson,the actual capacity is
usually higher and you may see larger capacities shown in other
sources.Cruise lines themselves usually list the number of passen-
gers on a double-occupancy basis.
StateroomSize is the range of sizes in square feet of all accommo-
dations,including suites.Keep in mind that,even on ships with the
largest regular staterooms,ship rooms are much smaller than hotel
or motel rooms.While land-based accommodations are rarely less
than 300 square feet (and 500+is the normin better accommoda-
tions),a ship is said to have good-sized staterooms if they measure
about 160 square feet or more.Non-suite staterooms on any ship
rarely exceed 225 square feet,except on some of the high-luxury
Choosing the class of stateroom is not only the single most impor
tant price determinant for your cruise,but it is alsoanessential factor
inhowmuchyouwill enjoy the cruise.If the roomisn’t toyour liking,
you are not going to have as good a time,even though you will not
find yourself in your roomfor much more than sleeping.The two key
factors to consider when selecting a roomare size and location.The
bigger the room,the higher the price,with the top category,of
course,being a suite.Keep in mind that even in the non-suite cate
gory the best regular stateroomwill be two or more times as expen
sive as the lowest priced cabin.Cruise ships don’t offer hotel-sized
rooms.Be sure youknowwhat size roomyouare lookingfor toavoid
disappointment.Readmore about costs inthe sectiontitledAPracti
cal Guide to Your Cruise,page 73.
The Ships
Today’s larger cruise vessels and almost all of the smaller cruise ships
have the greatest number of rooms located on the outside,which
means you wake up to beautiful scenery passing by your windowor
balcony each morning.However,if you’re not squeamish about
sleeping in a windowless room,an inside stateroomcan save a great
deal of money andwill probably dojust as well fromacomfort stand
point.Inside rooms aren’t always smaller,contrary to what a lot of
people believe.In fact,many of the contemporary ships have inside
rooms that are exactly the same size as outside staterooms (less the
balcony,if any).The typical design in use today has a much smaller
range of room sizes than on older ships.This,of course,doesn’t
apply to suites,which begin at sizes only a little larger than regular
staterooms (especially if referred to as mini-suites),but can be as
large as a house in some cases.Most newships no longer have port
holes but,rather,large picture or even floor-to-ceiling windows.A
fewrooms inthe extreme fore or aft sections of the shipmay still fea
ture portholes.
The middle section of any ship gives,in theory,the smoothest ride.
But a rough passage is rarely a problem unless you’re unfortunate
enough to encounter a major stormor unusually heavy seas.Rooms
on the higher decks are less stable,though they are quieter and have
more scenic views.However,on the huge ships that are so common
in the Caribbean,the difference in the “ride” from one room to
another isn’t all that great.
The Passenger/Crew Ratio isn’t shown,but all you have to do is
divide the number of passengers by the crewsize to come up with a
figure.For instance,if a ship has 2,400 passengers and a crew of
1,000,then its passenger/crew ratio is 2.4:1.Most of today’s larger
ships fall in a narrow range between 2.4:1 and 2.8:1.You won’t
notice any difference in the level of service based on numbers like
that.Ratios of 2:1 or lower are generally seen only in smaller luxury
vessels.Of the ships describedin this book,your only encounter with
that kind of ratio will be on Crystal Cruises.
I haven’t included two other commonly listed statistics because their
importance is dubious at best.These are the ship’s speed,and the
space ratio.The speed,which is always measured in knots,doesn’t
vary all that muchfromone cruise shiptothe next and,again,means
little since itineraries already have factored the speed into account
when showing arrival times in each port.Finally,“space ratio” is a
measure of available square footage per passenger.Despite seeing
this figure withincreasingfrequency,I have not foundthat it is a reli
able way of predicting whether or not a ship will feel crowded.The
ship’s design and layout are far more important.
The Ships
Meal arrangements and the style of cruise (i.e.,the degree of formal
ity) are alsoimportant considerations inchoosinga ship.The individ
ual ship descriptions will give you some feel for this,but also refer to
the Dining and Dress discussions in APractical Guide to Your Cruise,
page 83.
Not every ship is in the Caribbean all of the time.And,even when in
Caribbean service,many ships change itineraries from one part of
the seasontoanother.So,youshouldbe aware that the shipyoufirst
select as your dream vessel may not have a western or southern
Caribbean itinerary when you are ready for your vacation.
Carnival Cruise Line
Officers:Mostly Italian but some have international backgrounds
Ships’ Registry:Bahamas or Panama
The entire Carnival fleet features a striking all-white exterior,except
for the mostly red-and-blue Carnival logoandtheir distinctive funnel
– whichis shapedlike the tail of a jet liner.Althoughthis last little fea-
ture may seem relatively unimportant,it definitely adds a graceful
flair to all of their ships.When it comes to cruise style,you can count
on Carnival ships providing certain features.For instance,the main
showroom always puts an emphasis on rather lavish Vegas-style
entertainment.Activities are geared toward the fun side as opposed
tocultural enrichment.All Carnival vessels offer a wide variety of din-
ing choices.They are known for good food,but it won’t break any
new culinary ground.The style is mostly casual and the service is
friendly and efficient,but certainly not at a “white glove” level.The
Carnival experience is equally goodfor couples andfamilies withchil
dren.Carnival is definitely an innovator in the world of cruising.They
were pioneers of the mega-ship category for contemporary cruising.
They also offer a great deal of flexibility regarding embarkation
ports,dining and activities.
Year Built See below
Passengers 2,052
Length 855 feet
Passenger Decks 10
Beam 105 feet
Crew Size 920
Gross Tonnage 70,367
StateroomsIze 173-410 square feet
Carnival Cruise Line
The year that each of these ships was placed into service is as follows:
Elation - 1998;Fantasy - 1990 [2000];Fascination - 1994 [1999];
Imagination - 1995;Inspiration - 1996;Paradise - 1998;Sensation -
1993 [2000].
These seven sister ships represent Carnival’s initial entry into what
can be termed the “mega-ship” category.The only differences in the
ships of this class are the names giventopublic areas andtheir theme
and color scheme.For example,the bar space called Cleopatra’s on
Fantasy is occupied by Rhapsody in Blue on Inspiration.
The ships have a fairly easy-to-navigate layout of public rooms,
which begins four decks above the lowest deck with cabins.An
attractive and often glitzy central atrium rises five stories and pro
vides a focal point for public rooms.There are two separate dining
rooms separated fromone another by the galley.This arrangement
means each roomis somewhat more intimate than if they had been
combined into a single room.Many experienced cruisers prefer the
less crowded feeling associated with a smaller dining area.
The dining roomat the stern end can be the most confusing part of
the ship to get to since you have to use the stern elevators or stairs –
no access is available from the front section of the deck it’s on.
There’s a very attractive two-level main theater.
All of these ships have many colorful and comfortable bars and
lounges as well as all of the usual facilities one would expect on a
large ship.The sports deck has excellent gymand other health facili-
ties,and a jogging track is available at the top of the ship.
Accommodations on Fantasy-class vessels are spacious (a strong
point of most Carnival ships).There is a certain sameness to the
rooms on all of this line’s vessels,but that is offset not only by the
amount of space,but by the pleasant color schemes and
well-plannedlayout.One important thingtobe aware of is that Para
dise is a totally non-smoking ship,and this regulation is rigidly
enforced.It seems to have been well-received by a significant seg
ment of the cruising public and word is out that Carnival is planning
to make one of their upcoming ships smoke-free as well.
Year Built 2002,2002,2001
Passengers 2,124
Length 963 feet
Passenger Decks 12
Beam 106 feet
Crew Size 930
Gross Tonnage 88,500
StateroomSize 160-388 square feet
The Ships
The newships of the Spirit class are,in the Carnival fleet,exceeded in
size but not in passenger count only by the even newer Conquest
The class of ship is sometimes named for the first
ship in that series.Some people commonly refer to
ships in the same class as “sister” ships – so it is a
termI frequently use.
There are even bigger ships sailing the Caribbean,but these are
huge.Even more importantly,they hold their own against the most
spectacular ships of any line.
The gorgeous atriumlobby spans nine decks andis toppedby a glass
ceilingwiththe toptwodecks connectedby aglass staircase – what a
viewwhen walking down!Decks 2 and 3 contain most of the public
areas,including a beautiful two-level dining room,what seems like
countless bars andlounges anda gracefully curving“street” of shops
and boutiques.
The bow section of the ship houses a huge three-level theater that,
regardless of the particular ship’s theme and décor,is nothing short
of marvelous.One of the unique features of Spirit-class vessels is a
long and narrow area that surrounds the outer edge of the theater
on Deck 3.Because it isn’t the easiest place on the ship to find,it
tends to be a secluded and quiet area where you can go to take a lit-
tle walk or just sit and sip a drink.It is beautifully decorated on all of
the ships and usually has a garden-type theme.It is also along the
somewhat tricky route one has to follow to get to the arcade and
child-care facilities.Perhaps an even more lovely area is the smaller
andmore intimate entertainment lounge onDeck 1,directly beneath
the theater.
The top four decks of the ship contain the other public areas,includ
ing three swimming pools (one of which can be covered by a retract
able roof).Recreational facilities are extensive and even include a
water slide.The LidoDeck is the place togofor a buffet meal,snacks,
pizza,ice cream and whatever else your tastebuds decide.That
includes a chic and fabulous alternative restaurant spanning two
decks at the very top of the ship – certainly a most spectacular place
todine.There is anextra fee for eatingat the GoldenFleece (Legend),
David’s Supper Club – based on Michelangelo’s “David” (Pride),or
Nouveau Supper Club (Spirit).
The accommodations are similar in size,décor and style to the previ
ous class of ships.However,the Spirit class features a much greater
percentage of outside rooms with private balconies.In fact,four out
of five outside rooms boast a balcony.This has become a common
Carnival Cruise Line
and very popular feature of almost every newmega-ship,regardless
of cruise line.
Year Built 1999,2000
Passengers 2,758
Length 893 feet
Passenger Decks 13
Beam 116 feet
Crew Size 1,100
Gross Tonnage 101,509
StateroomSize 180-483 square feet
Two more almost brand newships,these sisters aren’t much differ
ent inphysical size thanthe precedinggroup.However,they addone
more deck,much of which is devoted to cabin space.That height,by
the way,does help to make the superstructure of the ship even more
impressive.Likewise,their slightly greater beam allows for a larger
number of interior staterooms.Both have a nine-story atrium and
have many features that are somewhat similar to the Spirit class.
These include a fabulous three-level theater and a host of other
cheerfully and colorfully decorated lounges.Even the dance club
covers two levels.There are two dining rooms,each of which is two
levels.Thus,it combines the elegance of the Spirit class with the
somewhat less crowded approach of the Fantasy class.Access to the
stern-located dining room is,however,easier on these two ships
because the upper level can be reached from other sections of the
ship without taking a different bank of elevators.
Although the public areas are splendid on both ships,I have a slight
preference for the interior décor on the Victory.Its Seven Seas Lobby
and atrium has a dazzling splash of color and the Mediterranean
casual restaurant/buffet makes you feel as if you were in Europe.
Speaking of casual dining,I like the deli option on both ships (the
NewYork Deli on Triumph and the East River Deli on Victory).Multi
ple pools,water slides andevena gymnasium/spa complex spanning
two decks completes the snapshot of the facilities.
Apositive attribute of bothships is the oversizedrooms.The smallest
(at 180 square feet) compares to mid-category or higher on many
other ships.These sisters do have a somewhat smaller percentage of
outside rooms with private balconies,but there are more than
enough for those who are seeking this type of accommodation.
The Ships
Year Built 1987 [2000];1986 [2000]
Passengers 1,486
Length 733 feet
Passenger Decks 8
Beam 92 feet
Crew Size 670
Gross Tonnage 47.262
StateroomSize 185-420 square feet
I can’t help but like the names of Carnival’s older ships – they’re so
much more “fun”-oriented.Their newest ships carry more
regal-sounding names.Maybe that’s why the newer vessels have the
Carnival prefix in front of them,because in the past if it had a name
like Celebration you almost immediately knewit was a Carnival ship.
Anyway,these identical twins were among the first large ships with
what could be termed “contemporary” styling.That includes such
design features as havingthe superstructure closer to the bowof the
vessel,and more picture-sized windows in outside rooms in lieu of
the old-fashioned porthole.What they lack,however,when com-
pared to most Carnival ships is the overall architectural extrava-
gance.For instance,they don’t have the typical atriumdesign.As a
result,the entry area onthe MainDeck is less thaneye-catchingcom-
pared to most other vessels in the fleet.But don’t be discouraged.
These are very nice ships that are well equipped (gymnasium,spa,
shopping,theater,plenty of bars and lounges,and children’s facili-
There are two main dining rooms,although alternative dining
options are more limited than on the larger ships.The layout is
extremely easy and convenient.Public areas on the Promenade Deck
are all on a cheerful “street” that runs along the port side of the ship.
Even the corridors on the decks with cabins are easier to negotiate
than on many ships because they are straight as an arrowand don’t
have many confusingside corridors or turns.Again,the only possible
area of confusion is access to the stern-located dining room.
All staterooms feature typical Carnival spaciousness and attractive
décor.Except for 10 large suites on one of the upper decks,all
accommodations are stacked on the four lowest decks.
Carnival Cruise Line
Year Built 1985 [2000]
Passengers 1,452
Length 727 feet
Passenger Decks 8
Beam 92 feet
Crew Size 660
Gross Tonnage 46,052
StateroomSize 185-190 square feet
The oldest ship in Carnival’s fleet,Holiday is still looking pretty darn
good,thanks to a recent refurbishment.It is almost identical in size,
layout and design to the Celebration and Jubilee,being only slightly
smaller in just about every measurement.The public facilities have
different names,of course,but the nature of them is the same,so
you can do anything on this ship that you could on the aforemen
tionedtwins.Whenit comes tothe size of accommodations,the Hol
iday is quite an egalitarian vessel.Except for a few smaller rooms
with upper and lower berths and an equally small number of suites,
all of the cabins are virtually identical in size and layout.
Year Built 1996
Passengers 2,642
Length 893 feet
Passenger Decks 12
Beam 116 feet
Crew Size 1,050
Gross Tonnage 101,353
StateroomSize 180-483 square feet
This ship is very similar in both size and nature of the public facilities
to Triumph and Victory.Even the rooms are of the same size and the
percentage of inside versus outside and balcony versus non-balcony
is like the others.Clearly,Destiny served as the prototype for the
other two ships and all of the subsequent classes of Carnival
mega-ships.Infact,Carnival considers the TriumphandVictory tobe
Destiny-class vessels,but there are just enough differences that I’ve
chosen to list it separately.It also has the central atriumthat spans
nine decks.This is called the “Rotunda” and is one of my favorite
features.While many of the newest ship atriums feature large
murals,this one is bathed in a subdued blue light and has dark mar
ble on the atrium walls.It makes for a more sophisticated and ele
gant atmosphere than the exotic or glitzy ambiance of many other
ships.The base level of the atrium,like all ships of this type,has a
huge bar.Called the Flagship,this bar was the first of its type in the
The Ships
industry.Have a few drinks,look up and you’ll probably pass out!
Just kidding,of course.
Year Built 2002,2003
Passengers 2,974
Length 952 feet
Passenger Decks 13
Beam 116 feet
Crew Size 1,150
Gross Tonnage 110,000
StateroomSize 185-430 square feet
These are the newest andbiggest ships inthe Carnival fleet.The Con
quest made its debut inmid-November,2002andGlory wasn’t set to
sail until the summer of 2003,so the information on both ships is
limited to what was provided by Carnival.These are the first two ves
sels in the soon-to-be-expanded Conquest class.In effect,they are
enlarged versions of the Spirit class.Although slightly shorter,they
have a wider beamand,like the Triumph and Victory,have an addi-
tional deck,which allows for the additional passenger count.Still,
these ships are smaller than the world’s largest vessels – Royal Carib-
bean’s Voyager class.
The smoothandstraight lines of the exterior are matchedby a gener-
ally straight and easy-to-navigate deck plan.Any curves in the route
are intentionally there tobreak upoverly longviews andtoaddsome
visual style.Most of the public decks (other than the usual Lido and
sports-related decks) are the middle decks,sandwiched between
accommodation decks above and below.
The nine-level atriumis similar to Spirit ships as well but has two bal
cony levels instead of one,which will give it an even more spacious
look and more vantage points from which guests can be dazzled
with the interior view.
There are two main dining rooms,each with two levels.The
stern-located room is,however,easy to get to as you can reach it
without having to go find a bank of elevators that will get you there.
Infact,youcanget toit either onthe inside of the shiponthe balcony
level or via an outside promenade on the main level.
The wonderfully varied alternative dining,entertainment,and recre
ational facilities are muchonthe style of the other twoclasses of Car
nival super-liners.There are four swimming pools,one of which can
be coveredby a slidingglass dome,andone for childrenonly.The lat
ter is locatedinthe larger andevenbetter-equippedchildren’s center
Carnival Cruise Line
perched high up on the Sun Deck.The so-called “Children’s World”
covers more than4,000 square feet andwill be Carnival’s largest and
best-equipped facility for children of all ages.
Accommodations are varied but feature a large number of outside
rooms with private balconies.Size-wise,the Conquest-class vessels
happily continue Carnival’s policy of providing spacious staterooms
in even the lowest-priced categories (with even the smallest room
being somewhat larger than on most other Carnival ships).The fur
nishings and color schemes are also similar to other recent ships in
the fleet;that is,attractive and comfortable without breaking any
new ground.
What’s ina name?Carnival for one thing.Many of Carnival’s vessels
(especially the newest and biggest) are preceded by the name
“Carnival,” such as Carnival Destiny as opposed to the Celebration,
which is never referred to as the “Carnival Celebration.” In these
listings I have only used the surname of the ship,so to speak.
However,for your information,here’s the full listing of ships that
bear the “Carnival” first name:Carnival Conquest,Carnival Destiny,
Carnival Glory,Carnival Legend,Carnival Pride,Carnival Spirit,
Carnival Triumph,and Carnival Victory.
Celebrity Cruises
Crew:International,with emphasis on European
Ships’ Registry:Liberia,except for Mercury,which is registered in Pan
Celebrity’s ships,like most other cruise line fleets,have certaindistin
guishing exterior characteristics that make themeasily recognizable.
The majority of their vessels are mostly white,with broad bands of
dark blue across the bottomandupper sections of the hull,andaddi
tional blue trim on portions of the superstructure,including their
hallmark funnel with the huge white"X"across it.The overall effect is
one of beauty and sleekness.
Excellent cuisine is another Celebrity hallmark,and the sophistica
tion of the food preparation,appearance and service is higher than
many of the mass-market lines.
While all Celebrity ships have the usual array of amenities and facili
ties of a large cruise ship,the AquaSpa is a Celebrity feature that war
rants special attention.Their spa facilities are among the
best-equipped anywhere on the sea and,in addition to the usual
The Ships
exercise equipment and beauty treatments,it has sauna,steam,
aromatherapy and other goodies for those who appreciate the finer
things in life.
No one would ever claimthat Celebrity is quite on the same level as
Crystal,but they are known for providing a high level of service that
goes beyond industry norms,and that results in an outstanding
cruise experience.Additional facilities for childrenhave extendedthe
appeal of Celebrity beyond just couples.
Year Built 1996,1997
Passengers 1,870
Length 866 feet
Passenger Decks 10
Beam 106 feet
Crew Size 909
Gross Tonnage 77,713
StateroomSize 171-1,514 square feet
There is no doubt that these are large ships but,by today’s newstan-
dards,not super-sized.That is true of many of Celebrity’s ships and
will be appreciated by those travelers who feel a bit overwhelmed by
some of the biggest of the bigvessels.Althoughthey are twinsisters,
the décor in public areas is so different that,unless you are very
observant,you might well think that they are not the same.While
most sister ships just opt for different colors or themes to differenti-
ate themselves,Galaxy and Mercury take it a step further.For
instance,Galaxy’s Orion Restaurant and Mercury’s Manhattan Res
taurant use different types of columns,ceilings and even staircase
arrangements.Both of these two-tiered dining rooms are fabulous
to look at,with each fanning out in a circular pattern fromthe cen
The four-story Grand Foyer is the focal point of each ship’s public
area and a wide variety of facilities and lounges are easily accessed
fromit.The main theater is also two levels,although most seating is
on the main level.The balcony consists of small,almost private
box-like seatingareas similar toanold-style Europeanoperahouse.
Something else you can try while on board is the golf simulator.
While relatively few modern vessels have outdoor viewing areas at
the bow,the Galaxy and Mercury do have this feature,as well as a
spacious enclosed observation area atop the ship on the Sunrise
Deck.Staterooms are of a very nice size (the smallest being more
roomy than is standard in the cruise industry) and are comfortably
furnished in cheerful colors.Relatively few have balconies.
Celebrity Cruises
Year Built 1992 [1999]
Passengers 1,374
Length 682 feet
Passenger Decks 9
Beam 95 feet
Crew Size 1,374
Gross Tonnage 47,255
StateroomSize 172-500 square feet
Year Built 1990 [1998]
Passengers 1,374
Length 682 feet
Passenger Decks 9
Beam 95 feet
Crew Size 642
Gross Tonnage 46,811
StateroomSize 172-340 feet
Although there are slight differences statistically,these ships are
essentially the same.In fact,other than different names for public
areas andachange indécor,the only real difference is that the Zenith
has a greater selection of suite accommodations,some of which are
considerably larger than on Horizon.These are big ships,but with
the more intimate feel of a much smaller vessel.Now,I’m quick to
criticize the cruise lines for promoting their “intimate” feel on
mega-liners of nearly 3,000 capacity.But,it is true in the case of
these near-twins.There is an open and spacious feeling throughout
and guest rooms aren’t jammed by the hundreds on the five accom
modation decks.
All of the public rooms are wonderfully decorated and range from
cheery and colorful to elegant (with generous use of glass,brass and
other decorative features).There are enough alternative dining
options to keep you happy,although fewer than on some larger
ships.Likewise,the main theater is big enough to offer the style of
entertainment that people have come to expect from mega-liners.
The AquaSpa facilities are smaller than on Celebrity’s larger ships.
A lounge bar on the next to the top deck offers great views,or you
can use the outside observation area.The cabins on these two ships
offer the usual roomy and comfortable accommodations that Celeb
rity always offers.Except for the top-priced categories,the décor is
somewhat on the plain side.But,given the amount of time you’re
likely tospendinyour room,that is not a significant negative.Onthe
other hand,those who like to have a balcony will be disappointed to
learn that they are not available on these ships.
The Ships
Year Built 1995
Passengers 1,750
Length 815 feet
Passenger Decks 10
Beam 105 feet
Crew Size 843
Gross Tonnage 70,606
StateroomSize 174-1,101 square feet
Despite being bigger than Zenith and Horizon and not much smaller
than the Galaxy/Mercury sisters,Century is decidedly yacht-like in
appearance.The Grand Foyer is a beautiful entry area on a deck that
is otherwise devoted mainly to staterooms.There is a gorgeous
two-level main dining room.
The theater is similar to those on Zenith and Horizon.The same
applies to the size and style of most of the other public facilities,
which tend to feature understated elegance rather than
eye-catching glitz.
The AquaSpa occupies the bowend of the Resort Deck,an unusually
large and spacious outdoor recreation deck for a ship of this size.
There’s plenty of roomto relax on a chaise longue at the twin pools.
A jogging track is situated at the very top of the ship.Guest accom-
modations are in the normal size range for Celebrity ships and fea-
ture very cheerful colors and décor.Room layouts are efficient and
convenient.As one of the first ships to have a more or less
straight-backed stern (rather than the tiered and inward-rising out-
door decks on older and more traditional ships),Century has a num
ber of rooms that look out fromthe stern.These are among the best
on the ship,about two-thirds of which avoid getting into the pricey
suite category.As with the previously described Celebrity vessels,
there are relatively fewstaterooms withbalconies,andthose are lim
ited to the mini-suite category or better.
Year Built 2002,2000,2001
Passengers 1,950
Length 965 feet
Passenger Decks 11
Beam 106 feet
Crew Size 1,000
Gross Tonnage 91,000
StateroomSize 170-1,432 feet
This group of vessels (known as the Millenium class) is Celebrity’s
newest and largest.They have a considerably different exterior
Celebrity Cruises
appearance than the rest of the fleet.The hull is blue and the super
structure is white.However,there is plenty of trimin gold and red,
giving these ships a colorful look.The colors also greatly soften the
otherwise boxy look of these ships.
While Celebrity has always been known for elegant facilities,it took
vessels of this size to offer the full range of features that some of the
other lines introduced before these ships were placed in service.
Although the three-level Grand Foyer isn’t overly dramatic by ship
atrium standards,it is somewhat made up for by the fact that you
can ascend 10 decks via glass elevators that overlook the sea.
Inside public facilities are primarily on two mid-level decks located
between the accommodation decks.Outdoor decks are,as usual,on
the top of the ship.Excellent shows are performed in a beautiful
three-tiered theater while the two-level main dining roomis among
the nicest at sea.The shopping area on each ship is called the Empo
rium and is very large.A variety of bars and lounges all add to the
resort atmosphere.
In the past,Celebrity hasn’t been considered child-friendly and,
while that may still be true onother ships inthe fleet,Millenium-class
vessels have an excellent “Ship Mates Fun Factory” that will keep the
little ones busy for hours on end.The staterooms are mostly carbon
copies of other Celebrity ships,although two important differences
exist.First of all,the majority of outside rooms have private balco-
nies.Second,there’s a much greater variety of suite accommoda-
tions than on most other Celebrity vessels,so that if you really want
to splurge,you can do so.It is nice to be able to report that,despite
the larger size of these ships compared to the rest of the Celebrity
fleet,there has been nothing lost in the quality of food served or the
excellence of the staff.
It should be noted that the Infinity is another mem
ber of this class of vessels.However,it visits the Ca
ribbean only as part of its trans-Panama Canal
Costa Cruises
Ships’ Registry:Italy
While this line has numerous older and smaller ships in service on
their European routes,the best of the fleet serves the Caribbean.
Costa’s vessels have an all-white hull and superstructure.However,
The Ships
even their most modern vessels maintain one traditional design ele
ment.That is the roundish,bigyellowfunnel withthe blue “C” onit.
Costa definitely emphasizes a casual and fun atmosphere,rather
than sophistication and formality.It does so in what they refer to as
“Italian style” and this is generally more than just an advertising slo
gan.The fun level is never higher than on Costa’s famous “Baccha
nal” night,when guests can dress up in togas using bed sheets
(instruction on howto make your toga is provided).This is probably
one of the most entertainingevents at seaandis aCostatrademark.
Their menus do emphasize Italian cuisine,although there are always
many other dishes to choose from.However,I recommend their
pasta dishes,which are excellent.The service on Costa is good and
everyone is extremely friendly,even by cruise industry standards
where that is always the norm.On the other hand,there is no way
that the Costa experience can be considered sophisticated.
Depending upon your outlook,that is either positive or negative.For
those who are concerned about traveling on a foreign line,you
should be aware that the majority of Costa’s passengers on Carib-
bean cruises are American and the “official” languages on board are
English first and Italian second.
Year Built 2000
Passengers 2,114
Length 960 feet
Passenger Decks 12
Beam 106 feet
Crew Size 920
Gross Tonnage 85,000
StateroomSize 160-388 square feet
This shiphas the same deck planas Carnival’s Spirit-class ships.Costa
is,in fact,a Carnival subsidiary.So,as far as facilities and ship layout
are concerned,you can refer back to the Spirit group for details.
However,it is worth noting that Costa Atlantica’s Italian theme and
décor are absolutely gorgeous.There is bothelegance andglitz (with
more of the latter),sometimes right next to one another.Perhaps
because I live in Las Vegas I have a slight preference for the décor on
this vessel over most of the same type ships on Carnival.
Of the many beautiful public areas,the piece de résistance is the Café
Florian,a replica of a famous café in St.Marks Square,Venice.
Visually magnificent,this sophisticatedlounge is the antithesis of the
light-heartedandfestive atmosphere elsewhere onCostaAtlantica.
Costa Cruises
The many works of art throughout the shipcanbe discoveredby ask
ing for a self-guiding tour brochure.The accommodations are physi
cally the same as on the Spirit-class vessels although,again,the use
of cheerful colors makes them somewhat more attractive than on
Alternative dining options include the beautiful Club Atlantica spe
cialty restaurant.Unfortunately,the additional fee for dining there is
somewhat exorbitant.
Year Built 1996
Passengers 1,928
Length 828 feet
Passenger Decks 10
Beam 105 feet
Crew Size 800
Gross Tonnage 76,000
StateroomSize 120-431 square feet
This is another beautiful ship that most travelers are proud to sail on.
The exterior,except for the three bunched funnels,looks much like
the newer and bigger Costa Atlantica.As in the former case,decks
have Italian names and feature beautiful and mostly well-designed
public areas.These include a dramatic multi-level atrium called the
Planetariumand an excellent forward observation lounge complete
with waterfall.
There is a two-level showroom,numerous bars and lounges,a good
size shopping promenade and lots of spacious public areas.Recre
ational facilities include a full spa and an outdoor promenade.The
attractive main dining room is in two separate sections.There are
also several alternative dining options,including an expensive spe
cialty restaurant.Overall,the Costa Victoria has a more subdued
décor thanthe Costa Atlantica.Of course,dependinguponyour own
likes and dislikes,that could be better or worse.However,the Ital
ian-style fun is the same!
The only disappointment on the Costa Victoria is the staterooms,
which are considerably smaller than on many other modern ships.
For example,you would have to upgrade several levels to get a room
as large as the smallest on the Costa Atlantica.Also,there are no bal
cony staterooms and many outside rooms have portholes instead of
big windows.
On a positive note,the décor is bright and cheerful and even the
smallest rooms are reasonably comfortable and make good use of
the available space.
The Ships
Crystal Cruises
Officers:Scandinavian and Japanese
Ships’ Registry:Bahamas
I have already mentioned in the cruise line summaries that Crystal
Cruises are almost on a par with the luxury yacht lines.There is no
doubt that,regardless of which Crystal vessel you sail on,you will be
treatedtoexceptional service that the other mainstreamlines cannot
match.That should be made “crystal” clear when you realize that
Crystal’s vessels are generally the size of a 2,000-passenger ship,but
they carry only about half that number.Still,you will be paying more
than twice as much as on the other cruise lines we describe here.It is
up to you to determine whether the additional cost is worth it.
The Crystal fleet features graceful all-white exteriors with blue trim
and many traditional design elements such as a pointed narrowbow
and a slightly rounded stern.Real teak decks (increasingly rare in the
cruise industry) help set the atmosphere for a more traditional style
of cruising.
Dining is a gourmet experience all the way,with additional culinary
delights on many sailings prepared by celebrity chefs.Much of the
food preparation is done table-side,and you’ll have an extensive
wine list to choose from.There are also splendid alternative dining
Crystal has built its reputation on outstanding service and that is
exactly what you will get fromevery member of the attentive crew.
They will pamper you fromembarkation to disembarkation.This ser
vice includes amenities that one often doesn’t get on the
mass-market lines – suchas complimentary use of terryclothrobes.
On-board group activities are generally oriented more toward edu
cation and cultural enrichment than partying.
Year Built 1990 [2000]
Passengers 940
Length 791 feet
Passenger Decks 8
Beam 105 feet
Crew Size 545
Gross Tonnage 49,400
StateroomSize 183-948 square feet
Crystal Cruises
Year Built 1995 [2001]
Passengers 940
Length 781 feet
Passenger Decks 8
Beam 99 feet
Crew Size 545
Gross Tonnage 51,044
StateroomSize 202-982 square feet
Despite small differences in size and detail (mainly the layout of pub
lic decks rather than the nature of the facilities),these are essentially
sister ships.The interior décor is stunning with the two-level Crystal
Plaza filled with statues,columns and a central crystal sculpture.
There’s also a glass piano.The Sun Deck has a full array of recre
ational facilities ranging fromtennis courts to a complete spa.There
are two swimming pools,one with a retractable roof for inclement
weather.Entertainment is varied and ranges from floor shows
(somewhat less elaborate than on larger ships because of the limited
stage facilities) to lectures and classical music.There’s also a movie
Staterooms are extremely spacious by cruise ship standards and all
are thoughtfully designed and beautifully appointed.Every room
has a sitting area that includes a sofa.The large bathrooms all fea-
ture tubs,something rarely seen in the non-suite category on most
cruise ships.Beige,taupe and other pleasing soft-on-the-eye shades
are used in the fine furnishings and accessories.There are no inside
staterooms on Symphony and even the lowest category of room is
somewhat larger than the already big measurements on Harmony.
Many rooms have private balconies.
Year Built 2003
Passengers 1,080
Length 820 feet
Passenger Decks 9
Beam 112 feet
Crew Size 655
Gross Tonnage 68,000
StateroomSize 226-1,345 feet
This brand new ship is also Crystal’s biggest.The dimensions aren’t
that much different fromtheir older ships but the extra deck allows
for additional passenger capacity.However,you won’t be crowded
in.Like other members of the Crystal fleet,Serenity is a much bigger
vessel than would be expected,considering its capacity.
The Ships
The extra stateroomdeck is alsothe major physical variance between
this vessel and the other two ships.The layout would be familiar to
Crystal passengers from their other ships.The difference is in the
details.For instance,although the main showroom’s stage area can
be used as a dance floor,it is designed to allow for more elaborate
shows andthere is a separate clubwithanevenbigger area for danc
ing.Agreater percentage of rooms have balconies andthe rooms are
definitely the largest of any onthe bigcruise lines.There are noinside
staterooms and all rooms have largely unobstructed views due to a
new design feature which effectively hides the lifeboats.
Disney Cruise Line
Ships’ Registry:Bahamas
Year Built 1998,1999
Passengers 1,754
Length 964 feet
Passenger Decks 11
Beam 106 feet
Crew Size 950
Gross Tonnage 83,000
StateroomSize 184-1,029 square feet
With their black hulls,white superstructure and two big red funnels
(with,of course,a Mickey Mouse silhouette),the Magic and Wonder
have a more traditional exterior styling than most modern cruise
ships.The sharply raked and almost pointed stern is unusual,
although it doesn’t do much to please my personal aesthetics.Oth
ers will,no doubt,love it.
The extensive public facilities are grouped into two areas.Most
indoor facilities are on three successive decks with an attractive
atriumlobby (Decks 3through5,withroomdecks above andbelow),
with the outdoor,recreational and buffet dining facilities are on the
top decks.Disney remains pretty traditional with that.
Traffic flow within the ship is quite good and there is even a
wrap-around promenade deck.That is increasingly rare on newer
cruise ships.While dining may not be up to gourmet standards,it is
still excellent.There are three main dining rooms that you rotate
through fromone night to the next.Each is differently themed and
all are beautiful.One is called the Animator’s Palate and has a car
toon theme.It is especially imaginative and worthy of the Disney
Disney Cruise Line
The large showroom offers productions that the entire family can
enjoy.The theater is visually beautiful,but its one-level arrangement
does give it a more crowded feel than big ships with multi-level the
Both ships have the usual wide assortment of lounges and other
facilities common to adult-oriented cruising.However,there are
more than the normal number of special areas for children.These
include separate pools (one with water slide),a children’s snack bar,
aneducational marine “lab,” andDisney’s Oceaneer Club.This is sure
to raise the question:“What if we don’t have any children traveling
with us – does that rule out Disney?” A good question,and one that
isn’t that easy to answer.There is little doubt that,especially com
paredtoother cruise lines,afar greater percentage of passengers are
families with children.However,both ships do offer a number of
activities and facilities that are for adults only.These include a spe
cialty restaurant,dance clubandspa/massage facilities.Evenparents
who have brought along the kids might want a quiet evening with-
out the little ones and those adult facilities will come in handy for
that.So,unless havinga lot of childrenaroundis bothersome toyou,
there is no reason for adults to dismiss Disney Cruises out of hand.
After all,most of us are just children at heart – especially when we’re
on vacation.
Disney certainly hasn’t scrimped on its accommodations.State-
rooms are larger thanaverage for all cruise shiplines,andhave a sep-
arate sittingarea withconvertible sofa.Disney obviously realizes that
many passengers will be families who can’t afford separate rooms
for the children.Outside rooms have at least a picture window,but
the majority have a private balcony.All rooms are bright and cheer
ful,with comfortable furnishings.
Holland America Line
Crew:International,with emphasis on Indonesian and Filipino
Ships’ Registry:The Netherlands,except for Veendam,which is regis
tered in the Bahamas
Traditions are very important at Holland America because,for the
most part,this is an old-fashioned and traditional cruise line that
appeals to a large segment of the sailing public.It starts with the
basic exterior design and features such as their dark,midnight blue
hull,as well as the color trimon the white superstructure.All of the
public areas (including those ships with atriums) tend toward a
classy styling that features understated elegance rather than a delib
erate attempt to“wow” you.The result is a fine settingfor a sophisti
cated cruise experience.Works of art,including paintings and
The Ships
sculpture,are a big part of HAL ships,and sometimes these vessels
can seemlike floating art galleries.
There is always a wrap-around promenade deck;you can walk
around the entire ship without going inside.This is another way that
all Holland America vessels keep older cruising traditions alive.
Holland America has a well deserved reputation for fine food,out
standing personalized service and a host of on-board activities.They
do a good job of combining both fun and culturally enriching activi
ties.In the latter vein,HAL has many “theme” sailings.
One of the pleasures of cruising has always been to enjoy the view
froma special interior spot where you could sit and gaze out upon
the water or the passing islands.Fortunately,Holland America has
retained one of the most enduring institutions in the cruise
industry.That is the “Crow’s Nest” – their observation lounge.The
name comes froman old nautical tradition – a lookout high up on a
sailingship’s tallest mast.But onHAL youdon’t have toclimba rope
ladder to get there.Always on the top or next-to-the-top deck,it
provides views on three sides.The Crow’s Nest also has a small
dance floor,so there is often entertainment.It is a common venue
for lectures and other shipboard events.If you sail on Holland
America,be sure tospendsome time at the top.
Year Built 2000
Passengers 1,380
Length 780 feet
Passenger Decks 10
Beam 106 feet
Crew Size 600
Gross Tonnage 61,000
StateroomSize 182-1,126 square feet
Year Built 1997
Passengers 1,316
Length 778 feet
Passenger Decks 10
Beam 105 feet
Crew Size 644
Gross Tonnage 62,000
StateroomSize 182-1,126 square feet
With only minor statistical differences and essentially the same lay
out,these twoships are really sisters.The AmsterdamandRotterdam
Holland America Line
are considered the co-flagships of the fleet despite the introduction
of a couple of newer and larger ships,which you’ll read about soon.
These ships hold a special place because they carry names that go
way back in the history of the line.Both names have been used since
HAL first went intobusiness andaseries of popular ships have carried
on the name and the traditions associated with it.
The ships have two funnels that are placedside-by-side almost at the
stern of the ship.There is a lot of space at the bowbefore the steeply
sloping superstructure begins to rise from the deck.Overall,these
are graceful and mostly traditional vessels,although there are cer
tainly some elements of more modernshipdesignvisible onthe exte
There is a most attractive three-level atriumthat serves as the focal
point of bothships.The layout of the twoprimary public decks is abit
confusing.However,you will get used to it after a short time at sea.
Gold is a popular color and is most prominent in the gorgeous main
diningrooms of eachship.Be sure totake note of the wonderful bear
sculptures at the pool on Amsterdam.
The main dining rooms are two-level affairs,as is the theater.Alter-
native restaurants are available in addition to the almost
ever-present “Lido” deck buffet.There are several swimming pools
and one can be covered during inclement weather.The staterooms
are large and nicely equipped.Most have good-sized windows but
there are no floor-to-ceiling windows or balconies until you get into
the suite category.All have full bathtubs,a feature on just about the
entire HAL fleet.
Year Built 1999,2000
Passengers 1,440
Length 780 feet
Passenger Decks 10
Beam 106 feet
Crew Size 561
Gross Tonnage 63,000
StateroomSize 113-1,125 square feet
Marginally larger than Amsterdamand Rotterdam,these two vessels
do have a very similar deck layout and almost identical facilities.
Stateroom categories and sizes are mostly the same.In fact,I have
been unable to find any significant difference,except that the pas
senger-to-crew ratio is not as impressive as on the aforementioned
vessels.This doesn’t seemto have had an appreciable effect on the
level of service,which is excellent.Perhaps that last factor is,how
The Ships
ever,the reason that Holland America always classifies these two
ships in a different category than its co-flagships.Even the price of
the Volendamand Zaandamis lower (on the same level as Maasdam
and Veendam),something that wouldn’t ordinarily be expected
given the similarity of the ships.Consequently,I consider these a
good value when compared with other ships of this line.
There is one potential problemthat you should be careful to avoid.
While the majority of the staterooms on these vessels are compara
ble in size to Amsterdam and Rotterdam (i.e.,starting around 180
square feet),the lowest category is so small and cramped that it is
likely to spoil your cruise.Fortunately,there are only a fewrooms in
this category.
Year Built 1993,1996
Passengers 1,266
Length 720 feet
Passenger Decks 10
Beam 101 feet
Crew Size 561
Gross Tonnage 55,451
StateroomSize 182-1,125 square feet
Smaller andsomewhat undistinguishedin their exterior appearance,
these two ships are not nearly as impressive as the majority of ships
cruising the Caribbean,or even most of the other HAL ships for that
matter.On the other hand,you won’t be spending much time look-
ing at the outside of the ships,and things are much better once
you’re on the inside.
These ships are typical of the size of Holland America vessels until
they began putting bigger ships into service.They’re big enough to
offer all of the facilities and amenities without being so large as to
overwhelm.That is important to some travelers who feel that bigger
isn’t always necessarily better.
The three-story atriumis typical Holland America – elegant without
being overdone.While the decks with staterooms are easy to negoti
ate,some of the public decks do have a rather circuitous arrange
ment.This is common to the line in general and was obviously done
to avoid long and straight views,but it can make you wonder exactly
which way to go when looking for a particular place on board.
The main dining room is two levels and features a beautiful
double-horseshoe staircase.The show lounge is also double-deck
and I prefer the balcony with its graceful wavelike seat arrangement.
The theater’s lobby area is also worthy of note when it comes to
Holland America Line
appearance.Staterooms in all categories are the same as on the
Amsterdam and Rotterdam.
Year Built 1984 [1990]
Passengers 1,214
Length 704 feet
Passenger Decks 9
Beam 89 feet
Crew Size 542
Gross Tonnage 33,930
StateroomSize 152-294 square feet
The classical look doesn’t automatically come with the territory on
older ships (and with the way newships are being introduced these
days,1984 does qualify as an old ship).Unfortunately,some of the
mid-sized vessels that were built around this time look more like
freighters than cruise ships,and the Noordam falls into that cate
gory.There are,however,a significant number of people who would
not agree with that assessment.
The interior and overall cruise experience are better than you might
expect fromthe exterior.Because this is a smaller ship it is fairly easy
to navigate around the public decks.One odd arrangement for a
cruise ship is the fact that the main showlounge is in the middle of
the ship rather than at the bow.
The main restaurant,although admittedly attractive,tends to have a
crowded feel unless you sit in the more private areas on its sides,
known as the King’s Roomand the Queen’s Room.Noordamhas all
the usual recreational facilities,including a spa and gym,despite its
smaller size.The accommodations are generally quite nice and fea
ture the good taste and efficient design usually seen on Holland
America.However,inside staterooms just barely reach what I would
consider tobe anadequate size.Those whotendtofeel a little closed
in by small rooms will probably be wise to upgrade to the standard
outside double category.Lower-priced stateroom categories have
only a shower in lieu of tub.
The Ships
Year Built 2003,2002
Passengers 1,848
Length 950 feet
Passenger Decks 11
Beam 106 feet
Crew Size 800
Gross Tonnage 82,000
StateroomSize 185-1,313 square feet
These two spanking newvessels recently introduced by HAL are con
siderably larger than the other ships of this line that have been
described up to now.They will be known as Vista-class ships and at
least two more vessels of this type are planned for the future.The
designis more inkeepingwithrecent trends incruise ships,although
the well-known Holland American colors do seemto provide a more
traditional look.
As for the cruise experience,you’ll find the classic Holland America
style from one end of the ship to another and in the way you’re
treated.This is one of only a fewships of its size that keeps the tradi-
tional wrap-around promenade deck.The three-level atriumis a HAL
hallmark,althoughit andmost other public areas are generally more
eye-catching in a glitzy and glamorous sort of way than usual for
them.You might say that the elegance is only moderately under-
stated!The extensive use of glass and curved,flowing lines helps to
create a wonderfully airy atmosphere.This is evident in the two-level
main dining roomand the magnificent tri-level main showroom.
There is also an alternative theater and more dining options than on
other Holland America ships.These innovations have not changed
the basic nature of the cruise,which features all of the things that
HAL passengers have come to expect,such as great service and fine
The recreational facilities are larger and more extensive than on any
other ship in the fleet.Among the options are a golf simulator and
tennis and basketball courts.There is an outside observation deck
above the Crow’s Nest Lounge.While HAL doesn’t have a reputation
as being the best cruise line for children,Oosterdamand Zuiderdam
might well begin to change that image.There are separate facilities
for small children and teens,respectively called the Kid Zone and
Wave Runner.
When it comes to your quarters,these ships also break newground
for HollandAmerica.Bothhave a muchhigher percentage of outside
rooms with private balconies.Spaciousness is also the order of the
day with even the lowest-priced inside room measuring a comfort
Holland America Line
able 185 square feet.While the décor isn’t that much different from
other ships of the HAL fleet,there is a generally more cheerful color
scheme that gives the rooms an airier look.Lower priced stateroom
categories have only a shower in lieu of tub.
Norwegian Cruise Line
Ships’ Registry:Bahamas or Panama
With the exception of the S/S Norway,the entire NCL fleet features
all-white exteriors crowned by the trademark blue NCL funnel at the
stern.In general,the ships have a nice combination of both tradi
tional and modern styling that is pleasing to the eye.Norwegian has
a reputation for efficient and friendly service that is not particularly
fancy or intrusive.Likewise,their food hasn’t earned special honors,
but it would have to take a very fussy gourmet to find anything sig-
nificant to complain about.Norwegian is popular with both couples
and families as much for their casual and fun approach to cruising as
for their relatively low prices.
Norwegian’s Freestyle Cruising
One of the recent trends in cruising has been to offer a greater
freedomof choice when it comes to where and when you dine,and
howyou dress,among other things.Norwegian Cruise Line offers a
great degree of flexibility.They call it “Freestyle” cruising,andhere’s
howit works.There are up to 10 restaurants on NCL’s larger ships,
representing a variety of cuisines and styles.Dining times and
seating arrangements are flexible even in the more traditional
“main” dining room.Regardless of where you eat,you can dress as
you wish (with certain minimum requirements such as no beach
wear at dinner).Even in the most formal restaurant you can go
casual if you wish.Of course,you can also dress up as much as you
want,andmany people still do.NCL also says they apply “Freestyle”
to activities,but this is carrying the advertising a bit too far.Every
ship on every line offers virtual freestyle when it comes to what you
can do.However,NCL does have a more relaxed approach to
disembarkation,which allows you to spend more time on board (if
you wish) on the last morning of your cruise.
The Ships
Year Built 2002
Passengers 2,240
Length 965 feet
Passenger Decks 11
Beam 105 feet
Crew Size 1,100
Gross Tonnage 90,000
StateroomSize 142-5,350 square feet
The largest and most amenity-filled vessel in the NCL fleet is,quite
simply,also their most beautiful.The Dawn completed its maiden
cruise in December of 2002.Surprisingly,it doesn’t have a huge
atriumspanning many decks.Then again,maybe that’s not a nega
tive,considering how common this feature has become on cruise
ships.What it does feature is beautiful décor inits fabulous variety of
public areas.Among these are 10 restaurants (including two “main”
restaurants and four ethnic restaurants) and a spectacular
three-level main theater,along with several other lounges that pro-
vide entertainment.One of these,the Spinnaker Lounge,is almost as
big as a main showroomon smaller vessels.
The Bier Garden,high atop the ship on Deck 14,is a great place to
socialize andenjoy the views,while numerous other bars have catchy
themes,such as the Wine Cellar.Facilities for children are extensive.
You can leave themwell cared for in Planet Kids but they will have as
much fun in their own themed pool or the video arcade.The ice
creambar will appeal to kids and adults.
Recreational pursuits are well represented,with many pools and hot
tubs,courts for tennis,basketball and even soccer,and a large spa
and fitness center.If all that sounds like a bit too much effort,then
slide into a comfortable chair in the movie theater.There is also a
wrap-around promenade deck.
Accommodations are attractive,comfortable and generally
well-designed.Inside staterooms are somewhat on the smallish side
for newships of this type.Outside rooms,which begin at 166 square
feet,are better,but even the majority of these aren’t quite as big as
on many other lines’ top ships.The majority of outside staterooms,
and all suites,have a private balcony.You may not want to fork over
the $13,000-plus rate,but this ship has what may be the ultimate in
cruise line accommodations.The two Garden Villas are virtual
homes,complete with living room,dining room,three bedrooms
and a private garden.There is even a piano.They don’t provide a
piano player,but you can get butler and concierge service to bring
your drinks while you soak in the whirlpool.Who says that Norwe
gian caters to the more budget-minded cruising public?Other suites
Norwegian Cruise Line
aren’t nearly as lavish.At around800 square feet,they are alsomuch
more affordable.
Year Built 1992 [1998]
Passengers 1,750
Length 754 feet
Passenger Decks 10
Beam 94 feet
Crew Size 700
Gross Tonnage 50,760
StateroomSize 136-350 square feet
This attractive Caribbean and world traveler is a mid-sized ship with
the right mix of feel andfeatures of a bigshipandmore classic liners.
It was originally smaller,but during the 1998 refurbishment,they
stretched it and added more rooms.
The ship’s layout is fairly simple.The top-most decks contain a good
variety of recreational facilities,ranging frombasketball courts to a
fitness center and massage facility.It doesn’t have a lot of big public
lobby areas and goes for a more subdued form of elegance rather
thandazzle.There are six restaurants tochoose from,a large number
considering the size of the ship.The two main restaurants are the
Four Seasons and the Terraces.The former is roughly oval in shape
and extends out over the sides of the ship,providing excellent views
at dinnertime.Even nicer is the latter roomwith its four gently slop-
ing levels,as implied by the name Terraces.It overlooks the stern.
The two-level main showlounge is quite nice,although productions
tendtobe considerably less extravagant thanonlarger vessels.There
are numerous other bars andlounges,all comfortable andattractive.
The Observatory Lounge at the bow end of the Sports Deck is good
for socializing and sightseeing.The wrap-around Promenade Deck is
very traditional-looking.This deck has the ship’s main lobby and
entrance area.
The staterooms are colorfully attractive and very comfortable.How
ever,several of the lower categories are very small.Youhave togoup
to the middle price categories if you don’t want to feel cramped.
Only the best suites have balconies.
Norwegian Dreamprovides a decent cruise experience at affordable
prices and is well-suited to families and those seeking value.Those
who demand higher levels of luxury will probably want to look else
The Ships
Year Built 1999
Passengers 2,002
Length 853 feet
Passenger Decks 10
Beam 108 feet
Crew Size 950
Gross Tonnage 77,104
StateroomSize 121-489 square feet
Year Built 2001
Passengers 1,936
Length 848 feet
Passenger Decks 10
Beam 118 feet
Crew Size 950
Gross Tonnage 78,309
StateroomSize 121-459 square feet
The Sky and the Sun don’t have exactly the same statistics but they
are so similar that they can be considered sisters.They were the big-
gest and most luxurious ships in the NCL fleet until the recent intro-
duction of the Dawn.
The exteriors are very similar to those of all larger NCL ships.Most of
the middle decks are devoted to staterooms and are the sandwich
material of the recreational decks above and the main public decks
below.Although they are very similar throughout,there are some
more differences than just the minor statistical variations as shown
above.One interesting difference is that the Sun has a very broad
beam for a ship this length.That would make you expect to see a
more squat-looking vessel.However,it has graceful lines.
The interior layouts are similar,although some facilities switch decks
fromone ship to another.Perhaps the biggest difference is that the
Sun has nine restaurants to the Sky’s six (although the latter has one
more bar and lounge – a baker’s dozen to be exact).Both have a
roundedthree-story atriumas the focal point.Atwo-level showroom
is at the stern,a somewhat unusual location for modern ships.Not
that it makes any difference if you watch a showat the front or rear
of the vessel.
Each sister has a wide assortment of recreational facilities and a
pretty good program for children.Where there is some shortfall in
quality is in the accommodations.Not that they aren’t attractive
enough,comfortably furnished or practical in design,but too many
of the rooms are small.You have to upgrade considerably.Con
sidering that these are relatively newships,the minimumstateroom
Norwegian Cruise Line
size is much less generous than on almost all contemporary vessels.
Oceanviewrooms on the two highest stateroomdecks have private
balconies.These are more generously sized.
Year Built 1992 [1999]
Passengers 1,462
Length 680 feet
Passenger Decks 9
Beam 91 feet
Crew Size 620
Gross Tonnage 38,000
StateroomSize 118-375 square feet
The Majesty isn’t a small shipbut couldalmost be consideredas such
by today’s standards.The major refurbishment it underwent a few
years ago was not necessary because of its age – this isn’t an old ship
by any stretch of the imagination.It was done to bring it more into
line with the “Freestyle” philosophy.Thus,restaurants were added,
bringing the total up to six,which is high for a ship that carries fewer
than 1,500 passengers.
The ship’s layout is generally simple,althoughonly the sternelevator
bank andstairs provides access to one of the main diningrooms.The
Palace Theater has only one level but has a big feel and is quite nice
for a ship of this size,although some seats don’t have good sight
lines for the production shows.The wrap-around Promenade Deck
doubles as the location of the gym,while the Sun Deck is extremely
roomy and has plenty of space to spread out and relax.
The two-level circular lobby of the ship,called The Crossroads,was
one of the early attempts at atriumconstruction.It is attractive but
doesn’t quite make the grade for suchfacilities.One of the nicest fea
tures of this ship is the Royal Fireworks Lounge near the bowof the
vessel.It adjoins a forward outdoor observation area,making the
whole thing like an indoor/outdoor lounge.
Majesty’s accommodations are among the weakest in the NCL fleet.
A large number of rooms are undersized by today’s standards and
eventhe highest category of non-suite outside stateroomhas a bit of
a cramped feel.In addition,although the color schemes are quite
nice,the overall furnishings are too spartan.And this is not the
lowest-pricedshipinthe fleet.All of this doesn’t meanthat youcan’t
have a fine time cruising Norwegian Majesty,but you could do a lot
better on several other NCL ships.
The Ships
Year Built 1988 [1997]
Passengers 1,504
Length 710 feet
Passenger Decks 9
Beam 93 feet
Crew Size 680
Gross Tonnage 42,000
StateroomSize 110-270 square feet
This shipis marginally bigger thanthe Majesty andthe layout is prac
tically the same.Unfortunately,it doesn’t have the forward observa
tion area of the former,instead having a lounge without the great
viewing area.On the other hand,its Crystal Court lobby is more
attractive than the Majesty’s Crossroads.The top two decks have
very good recreational facilities for a ship of this size and plenty of
When it comes to accommodations,the Norwegian Sea is the weak-
est link inthe NCL fleet.It has anunusually large percentage of inside
staterooms.That wouldn’t be so bad in itself,but the size of the
rooms leaves much to be desired.Some are even a little bit smaller
than on the Majesty and we’re down at a level where every square
foot counts.In addition,the arrangement of the inside roomcorri-
dors is barracks-like and even a little confusing.
Prices are somewhat lower than on the Majesty so,if you don’t mind
a lack of roomspace andare lookingfor a low-pricedcruise,the Nor-
wegian Sea might well meet your needs.
Year Built 1960 [1996]
Passengers 2,032
Length 1,035 feet
Passenger Decks 10
Beam 110 feet
Crew Size 1,000
Gross Tonnage 76,049
StateroomSize 100-957 square feet
Originally designed for trans-Atlantic cruising before jet travel
became commonplace,the Norway is one of the last of an almost
extinct breed of liners.“Mega” in size before the termbecame fash
Norwegian Cruise Line
ionable,this ship is for those who desire a taste of an era that has all
but ended.It is the only ship in the Norwegian fleet that does not
offer “Freestyle” cruising.(This isn’t because NCL wouldn’t like to
offer it,but that would require a major refit.)
The classic lines of the exterior are far different fromtoday’s ships.It
has two widely spaced funnels,each with “wing tips” reaching out
toward the sea.The hull is painted a deep blue,making this the only
NCL ship that isn’t predominantly white on the outside.The public
facilities are mostly attractive,often in a retro sort of way,and the
layout of these areas is fairly easy to negotiate.However,there is a
somewhat crowded feeling in the design.
Althoughthere isn’t “Freestyle” choice,there is analternative restau
rant.The Great Outdoor Restaurant is one of the biggest at sea andis
a nice place totake breakfast andlunch.There’s alsoa two-story the
ater but it is a bit small for a shipof this size.Recreational facilities are
varied and have been brought up to date.Although there is a play-
roomfor kids,overall children’s facilities are somewhat limited.
Accommodations are quite varied,whichis typical of the older ocean
liners.On the positive side is the décor,which is bright and cheerful.
Functionality is adequate and storage space is very good.Outside
staterooms have only portholes (you have to get a suite if you want
large windows).The negative side of the ledger is twofold.First,the
arrangement of rooms on several decks is a mish-mash and it takes a
while to get used to the route you have to take to find your room.
More problematic is roomsize.You have to upgrade considerably to
get a room that has adequate size,and many of the lower-priced
rooms look more like oversized closets than rooms.Finally,many
rooms are located right next to public areas (especially restaurants),
which is not the most desirable arrangement.
Inshort,if youare lookingfor one of the fewvintage oceanliners still
in service on the main cruise lines,than the Norway will fit the bill.
However,I would plan on doing it soon,because who knows how
much longer the ship will remain in service.NCL has been introduc
ing newships at a good clip and,as with an old car,maintaining an
old ship becomes increasingly expensive.
The Ships
Princess Cruises
Officers:British or Italian
Crew:International,with a strong Italian influence
Ships’ Registry:Britain or Bermuda
When the mega-ship Grand Princess was introduced in 1998,it
opened up a whole newworld of cruising to the public.It was called
“Grand Class” and meant not only that you were on a ship with
grand proportions,but you had many options available to you that
were heretofore unavailable to cruise-goers.The public response
was so positive that Princess extended the concept of Grand Class to
the majority of their fleet (and all that sail in the Caribbean).So,on
Princess you have to distinguish between Grand Class cruise style
and Grand Class vessels.Specifically,only the Golden and Grand
Princesses meet the second definition.But several other ships that
are only slight variations of the Grand Class are making their debut
fromlate 2002 through 2005.
With the growing number of Grand Class vessels and Grand
Class-style cruising on most other ships of the fleet,the concept has
further evolved into Princess’ newest promotional feature – “Per-
sonal Choice Cruising,” which is their answer to “Freestyle” cruising
and is just about as flexible.
The Princess fleet features all-white exteriors with generally graceful
lines and gentle curves.The cuisine on Princess is excellent,falling
somewhere between Carnival and Celebrity in sophistication.The
same applies to the nature of the service throughout the ship.
Entertainment is among the most lavish and spectacular to be found
at sea.The ships of the “Love Boat” fleet have become increasingly
popular with families as activities and programs for children are
extensive.By the time this book reaches you,Princess’ fleet will have
expanded to 15 ships,with more deliveries expected soon.
Year Built 2001,1998
Passengers 2,600
Length 951 feet
Passenger Decks 13
Beam 118 feet
Crew Size 1,100
Gross Tonnage 109,000
StateroomSize 161-764 square feet
Princess Cruises
On ships like these,Grand-Class cruising and “Personal Choice
Cruising” may even be more varied than “Freestyle,” simply because
their size allows for so much variety in the facilities.While they aren’t
the biggest ships cruising today,there is no doubt that they are
huge.Fortunately,their massive size is softened to a great extent by
several unusual exterior design features,a fewof which are dramati
cally different from other new mega-liners.For starters,the stern
slopes outward as it goes up,the opposite of more traditional ves
sels.The huge funnel is mostly hidden by a pyramid-like structure
that houses the Princess logoona maze of steel tubing.That may not
sound so great,but wait until you see it before you judge.
The most distinctive feature is the topof the sternsection.It houses a
nightclub 15 decks above the sea that is connected to the rest of the
ship via a bridge walkway.The club’s position and shape looks like
the handlebar of some gargantuan-sizedshoppingcart!Some of the
exterior features aren’t things of beauty and,no doubt,many tradi
tionalists will look negatively upon them.But one has to admit that
the overall picture is stunning and impressive.
As for the interior,these Princesses are definitely magnificent.They
don’t have atriums that span most decks,but the three-story Grand
Plaza is beautiful and dignified.Layout is mostly simple.It may look
confusing on the deck plans but that is mainly because of the wind-
ingcorridors that are designedtogive a smaller feeling.Everythingis
easily reached except one of the main dining rooms located at the
ships’ stern.Accommodation deck corridors are straight as an arrow
and have fewnooks and crannies so finding your roomshould be a
There are three main dining rooms,which helps to avoid the feeling
that you’re eating with 2,700 other people.Among the alternative
dining facilities are Italian and Southwestern restaurants.The latter
is certainly unusual inthe worldof cruising.The indoor/outdoor Hori
zon Court buffet also serves as an alternative eatery.When it comes
to entertainment,the choices are as varied.Three separate
lounge/showrooms provide a variety of shows.Two of them have
stages that are large enough to do something meaningful.The main
theater is a lovely two-tiered facility.This is in addition to the
Skywalkers Nightclub,which,even if you’re not the nightclub type,
you simply must visit just to see it and to experience the viewin get
ting there!
Fewships can compete with these Princesses when it comes to recre
ational facilities.There are four pools,one of which can be covered.
The latter is in an especially attractive setting.The combined gymna
sium/fitness/spa center is huge andfully equipped.There are actually
The Ships
three decks devoted to recreation and,besides the specific facilities,
there is plenty of roomfor walking,jogging or just lying around and
soaking up the sun.The Promenade Deck is almost wrap-around.At
the bowend of the ship,it continues one deck up.However,there is
only a staircase connecting them,so disabled individuals will not be
able to circumnavigate the entire ship on the outside.
Children’s facilities are very good and include a virtual reality center
(which adults will be seen frequenting regularly as well).The accom
modations are varied but all are nicely designed and furnished.The
smallest rooms are sufficiently large by cruise ship standards,and
going a fewcategories up will get you into much roomier quarters.
The great majority of outside staterooms have their own private bal
conies.All rooms have only showers until you get into the mini-suite
Note that this line will be introducing another ship,to be called the
Caribbean Princess.It will enter service in the late spring of 2004
and will sail year-round in the Caribbean.It is essentially the same as
the other GrandClass ships,althoughthere has beensome tweaking
of the design,which we think will make it even more beautiful and
user-friendly.The only significant differences are that it doesn’t have
the sky-walk to the nightclub (which makes for a more graceful pro-
file) and there are a larger number of “main” dining rooms.Each is
smaller than on the other Grand Class ships,but they allow for a
greater variety of choices in the cuisine.
Year Built 1995,1995,1997
Passengers 1,950
Length 856 feet
Passenger Decks 10
Beam 106 feet
Crew Size 900
Gross Tonnage 77,000
StateroomSize 159-611 square feet
Although smaller than the preceding two ships,these sisters are also
considered by the cruise line to be in their “Grand-Class” category.
Differences between these three are minimal and all superficial.The
décor changes,as do the names of many public areas,but the layout
and facilities are identical.In exterior appearance they are basically
similar tothe GrandandGoldenPrincesses,except for the absence of
the nightclub high atop the stern.
The fact that the triplets have fewer decks does not change their
overall appearance,especially at first glance.Witha passenger count
Princess Cruises
that just misses reaching the 2,000 figure and 100 feet shorter than
the preceding,these aren’t huge ships by current standards.But they
certainly have all of the amenities andfacilities of the biggest ships.
Beginning with a four-story Grand Atrium that is bigger and more
attractive thanonthe precedingtwoships,these Princesses feature a
well-designed layout in the public areas;you won’t get lost when it
comes time tofindyour way todinner or a show.Speakingof shows,
there are two separate showrooms.
Meal offer great variety,as there are five different places to eat.The
large fitness center is glass-enclosed and suspended between two
decks.Children’s facilities andactivities are also numerous.There is a
wrap-around promenade and plenty of lounges with excellent view
ing facilities.Accommodations are on a par with the Grand Princess
class and most outside rooms have balconies.
Royal Caribbean International
Officers:Primarily Scandinavian or Italian,but some international
Ships’ Registry:Bahamas or Norway
Royal Caribbean vessels have an all-white exterior.The large,decora-
tive and easily recognizable Royal Caribbean funnel is generally
placed fairly well back on the ship.A longstanding Royal Caribbean
hallmark is the Viking Crown Lounge,which always sits atop the ves-
sel and is much like the “Crow’s Nest” found on Holland America.It
makes for agreat place tosocialize while enjoyingthe passingview.
Royal Caribbean offers excellent food and friendly service.They are
on the same level as Princess in terms of formality and quality.While
the majority of Royal Caribbean ships feature numerous alternative
dining options,most do impose an additional fee.The entertain
ment and on-board activities are extremely varied and cater toward
those seeking a fun time over the more culturally oriented programs
found on the more sophisticated lines.
Year Built 1988 [1996]
Passengers 2,852
Length 880 feet
Passenger Decks 11
Beam 106 feet
Crew Size 825
Gross Tonnage 73,192
StateroomSize 120-446 square feet
The Ships
Year Built 1992 [1995],1991 [1994]
Passengers 2,744
Length 880 feet
Passenger Decks 11
Beam 106 feet
Crew Size 827
Gross Tonnage 73,941
StateroomSize 120-446 square feet
Only minor differences separate these triplets,with Majesty and
Monarch being identical.The names of some public facilities are the
same fromone ship to another,while others vary.The style of deco
ration is also quite similar,so take your pick as to which one to sail
They have a mostly traditional profile that features clean lines.These
were among the first ships to feature a large atrium design.Royal
Caribbean decidedto name their atrium“the Centrum” andthey still
use this moniker for all their new ships.The Centrum on these ves-
sels,spanning a total of four decks,is quite attractive.The great
majority of interior public facilities are located off the Centrum.In
fact,the layout of these particular vessels is among the simplest that
you are likely to find on ships of similar size.
All but the top two decks contain staterooms.Likewise,there are
only two decks that don’t have public areas.This tends to eliminate
overly long corridors and provides a cozy feel but,depending upon
your sleep habits,you might do well to avoid rooms that are near
some of the lounges.
Each vessel has two main dining rooms stacked one on top of the
other.However,because there are no connecting stairways within
them,they are completely separate,rather than being like a
two-tiered facility.The only alternative dining on these ships is the
The primary showrooms are fairly big for vessels of this size and span
two levels.There are also two other major lounge facilities so you
have a great variety of entertainment to choose from and should
never feel crowded in.There’s also a cinema.
When it comes to recreational facilities you’ll find much to choose
from,including two pools and a complete fitness center.Children’s
areas are more limited,but adequate.
Accommodations are attractive and comfortable.Most outside
rooms have portholes and there are no balconies unless you choose
Royal Caribbean International
the highest non-suite category or a suite.Perhaps the only real nega
tive on this class of vessels is that the lower-priced staterooms are
very small.This applies to all interior rooms and even the first four
categories of outside staterooms.If you want a good-sized room,
you won’t find any bargain prices.
Overall,although these three ships are not the best in the fleet,they
do provide a nice cruise experience.
Year Built 2002,2000
Passengers 2,501
Length 962 feet
Passenger Decks 12
Beam 106 feet
Crew Size 859
Gross Tonnage 90,000
StateroomSize 166-584 square feet
The Radiance-class ships,alongwithall the goodthings people come
toexpect fromRoyal Caribbean,feature a visual brilliance that is a joy
to behold.The ships are very large by any standard but,given their
dimensions,are far more spacious thanmost.For example,although
they are nearly 10%longer anda deck higher thanthe previous class,
they carry roughly 10%fewer passengers.An open,spacious feeling
and a generous amount of glass are the hallmarks of both these ves-
Radiance and Brilliance are identical,except for the names of most
public facilities and the décor that goes with them.For such big
ships,they display a graceful profile,with a gently sloping super
structure at the bowand an imaginatively designed funnel nearer to
the stern.The three uppermost decks are almost entirely devoted to
recreational facilities and,in addition to the usual fare,you’ll find a
high-tech golf simulator,a separate swimming pool for the teen
crowd and even a rock climbing wall.There’s a multi-level fitness
center and one of the best-equipped spas at sea.
As is the case with the entire fleet,the Viking Crown Club is a gor
geous facility.As on all of the newer Royal Caribbean vessels,it goes
well beyond Crown Clubs on the older ships in the fleet in size and
luxury.The spectacular central atrium has glass-enclosed elevators
and runs almost the entire height of the ship.This visually stunning
area provides convenient access to most of the ships’ public areas as
well as the staterooms.Equally beautiful is the Solarium,which
sports exotic themes and statuary.
The Ships
The three-level theater hosts lavish production shows,while numer
ous smaller and more intimate venues will keep you entertained
throughout the day and night.The two-tiered main dining roomhas
a gorgeous grandstaircase,exquisite color schemes andgraceful tall
columns to go with a huge central chandelier.In addition to buffet
options,there is an alternative restaurant.A wide variety of chil
dren’s facilities and programs are available.
All of the staterooms are of a good size,even those in the lowest
price category.Most rooms below the suite level are very attractive
and decorated with modern furniture and cheerful colors and fab
rics.Interior staterooms are a little more onthe spartanside,but they
are still comfortable andhighly functional.Bathtubs don’t come into
the picture unless you’re at the suite level.However,the showers are
oversized.The majority of outside cabins have private balconies.
Those without themhave round windows.That is meant to produce
the traditional feel of a porthole,but it is much larger.
These are wonderful vessels and could be a good choice for people
who might be a little intimidated by the biggest vessels in the Royal
Caribbean fleet that are coming up next.
Year Built 2001,2000,2003,2002,1999
Passengers 3,114
Length 1,020 feet
Passenger Decks 14
Beam 158 feet
Crew Size 1,185
Gross Tonnage 138,000
StateroomSize 160-485 square feet
The Voyager class is a large and still growing group of ships,with
additional vessels on order.These are the biggest cruise vessels sail
ing the seas anywhere in the world.You might have done a
double-take when reviewing their statistics.Even those awesome
numbers,along with all kinds of superlatives about their beauty,
don’t do justice to these floating resorts.They are not only well in
excess of three football fields long,but they also have the widest
beamof any vessel,whichallows roomfor the Royal Promenade that
I’ll get to shortly.Despite their size,which can only be termed behe
moth,these vessels are extremely beautiful and even graceful.The
gently sloping decks and rounded stern,along with the profiles of
the Adventure Dome and funnel,give it a regal look.
Royal Caribbean International
Five decks of accommodations are located between the main indoor
public areas andthe three highest decks.(Asmaller number of rooms
are also on the two lowest public decks.)
With three decks of recreational facilities you can expect to find all
the usual activities and some very unusual ones.In addition to a
rock-climbingwall (whichRoyal Caribbeanwill be installingonmany
of its larger ships),Voyager-class ships have mini-golf and,yes,anice
skating rink!The ships are so big that they have not one,but TWO
Centrums!Many public areas carry the same name fromone vessel
to another,but others do change so I won’t bother to call any of
these by name.The main showroomis a beautiful three-deck affair,
as is the main dining room.The latter calls for some special attention
as these might well be the most beautiful restaurants at sea,
although,of course,personal tastes do vary.Tall columns support a
dazzlingceilingand,because of the height,there is a great feelingof
space.The two balcony levels gracefully surround the main floor and
are connected by one of the grandest stairways at sea.A piano is on
the middle balcony.
There are many alternative dining options,including a 1950s-style
burger place next to the Adventure Ocean.Located in a dome near
the top of the ship,this houses one of the most extensive children’s
areas at sea,exceeded only by Disney,as would be expected.The
huge two-level spa and fitness center and the Viking Crown Lounge
won’t disappoint either,as both are befitting a ship of this magni-
But I’ve savedwhat may be the best feature for last – the Royal Prom-
enade.Three decks highandrunningover half the lengthof the ship,
the Promenade (and not the Centrum) is the real heart of these ves
sels.It is the ship’s primary internal corridor,as well as its shopping
center.None of today’s ships have awider variety of places tobrowse
or shop then these do.And,because of the simple nature of the
Promenade,it makes getting around on these ships quite easy,
despite what could be a bewildering experience for some people
because of their size.But the Royal Promenade does something even
more.It creates a newclass of staterooms – namely the interior state
roomwithbalcony!Yes,a goodnumber of interior rooms have small
balconies that overlook the Royal Promenade so you can
people-watch from the privacy of your cabin (not to mention just
gawking at the fabulously colorful view).
The accommodations are quite varied.All of the rooms are generous
in size and even the smallest won’t have you feel cramped.
Oceanview staterooms without balconies feature oversized round
windows,while the number of rooms with balconies is extensive.
The Ships
The décor is nice but won’t set any records for beauty,perhaps the
only minor disappointment I have with these ships.
Year Built 1997,1996
Passengers 2,446
Length 916 feet
Passenger Decks 10
Beam 106 feet
Crew Size 760
Gross Tonnage 74,000
StateroomSize 158-1,033 square feet
Year Built 1997
Passengers 2,435
Length 915 feet
Passenger Decks 10
Beam 106 feet
Crew Size 765
Gross Tonnage 78,491
StateroomSize 149-1,059 square feet
AlthoughRhapsody has slightly differingstatistics,it is,for all intents
and purposes,the same as the other two vessels in this grouping.
Slightly smaller than the Radiance class,they are still big ships by any
measure,beginning with their seven-deck-spanning Centrum.A
fairly easy layout distinguishes these ships,especially in public areas.
However,the unusually large number of interior rooms carries withit
lots of corridors on cabin decks and some confusion can result from
The two-level main dining roomis a beauty,but the ships are some
what lacking as to alternative dining.On the other hand,the
excellent Windjammer Café,a buffet for breakfast and lunch,serves
as an alternative during the evening.It is at the front of the ship (for
some reason most vessels have the buffets toward the back).
The main two-tiered showroom is supplemented by another large
lounge as well as numerous bars.Children’s facilities as well as recre
ational facilities for adults are as variedas onany shipof this size.The
Solarium,which can be converted to a covered swimming pool,is a
beautiful spot.Staterooms are pretty much the same on all three
ships,although they run a tad smaller on the Rhapsody.This
shouldn’t be much of a problem since the amount of space in all
accommodations is generally good.Only the lowest priced rooms
are,on average,smaller than on the majority of newvessels.I do like
Royal Caribbean International
the cheerful décor and fabrics found on all three ships.The majority
of outside rooms have a private balcony.
Year Built 1990 [1995]
Passengers 1,600
Length 692 feet
Passenger Decks 12
Beam 100 feet
Crew Size 671
Gross Tonnage 48,563 feet
StateroomSize 117-269 square feet
One of the older ships in the Royal Caribbean fleet,the Nordic
Empress is the only one sailing in the Caribbean without the “of the
Seas” suffix.Actually,the Sovereign of the Seas is a little older but,
apparently,it wasn’t until after this ship came out that Royal Carib
bean wanted all of their ships to have a themed approach when it
came to names.I’msurprised that this ship hasn’t been renamed.
The seven-deck-high Centrumruns almost entirely through the ship
andprovides aneasy focal point for gettingaround.Ingeneral,this is
an attractive ship,although it pales a bit in comparison to the newer
mega-ships of the Royal Caribbean fleet.The exterior has a some-
what chubby appearance because it is relatively wide comparedtoits
length.The nicest features (besides the Centrum) are the two-level
main dining room,which is virtually surrounded by glass and offers
great views;the two-level main showroom,and the main pool area
with its spacious sundeck.
Dining options are somewhat limited.The recreational facilities are
sufficiently varied – they just aren’t as large or dazzling as on most
other ships of this line.I don’t have any real problems withthe public
areas and facilities.
Where Nordic Empress falls short is in the accommodations.Too
many of the rooms are small,and you will feel closed in for a
week-long cruise.There are only two categories of rooms in the
non-suite level that are sufficiently spacious,and you have to pay
quite a bit toget them.Furthermore,the décor is rather plain.It lacks
the splashes of color that most newer ships feature.Private balconies
are available only in suites and the highest category of regular state
The Ships
Year Built 1996
Passengers 1,804
Length 867 feet
Passenger Decks 11
Beam 105 feet
Crew Size 732
Gross Tonnage 69,130
StateroomSize 137-1,148 square feet
Somewhat akin to ships like Majesty of the Seas,this was one of the
first to introduce many features that are now taken for granted on
the mega-ships,such as the miniature golf course (amusingly called
Splendour of the Greens),the canopy-covered Solarium pool area
and an extensive children’s activity area,along with a video arcade.
The familiar Centrum and its shops and other facilities is,however,
much smaller on this ship.
The two-level dining room is appealing,but the main showroom is
less so.Like other vessels of similar classes there are only limited din-
ingvenues,but youwon’t have any trouble findingacocktail as there
is anabundance of attractive bars.The shiphas plenty of recreational
facilities and lots of open deck space on the upper decks.
The layout is simple and the ship doesn’t ever feel crowded despite
the relatively large number of passengers for its size.Stateroomsizes
are generally adequate with only the lowest class or two likely to
have you wishing that you had more room.The arrangement of the
rooms is highly functional and the décor is pleasant,much more so
than on the Nordic Empress,for example.A large number of outside
staterooms have private balconies.
Royal Olympia Cruise Line
Ships’ Registry:Greece
Year Built 2001,2000
Passengers 836
Length 590 feet
Passenger Decks 6
Beam 84 feet
Crew Size 360
Gross Tonnage 25,000
StateroomSize 140-375 square feet
Royal Olympia Cruise Line
These twins mark a change in Royal Olympia’s world of cruising and
they represent a huge improvement over the company’s other ships,
which are much older and lacking in appeal.(The other ships of this
line concentrate on the Mediterranean and never come to the Carib
bean.) They differ sharply frommost of the newcruise ships in size.
Although bigger than any other Royal Olympia vessels,these carry
fewer than half the passengers of most contemporary vessels.
Both ships have a beautiful sleek design that looks more like the lux
ury yacht class of ships than the mass-market cruise line vessels.A
royal blue hull provides a visual contrast to the white superstructure.
The technology is all modern,but the tieredarrangement of the stern
deck areas is more typical of traditional cruise ships.Interior décor is
both cheerful and soft on the eyes.Traffic flow is good,but that
should probably be expected on a ship of this size.
These Royal Olympia co-flagships have numerous facilities that are
more inline withwhat youwouldexpect onmuchlarger ships.These
include a full fitness center with spa and a well-designed main
lounge.Although all of the public areas are attractively decorated,
they do tend to lack the spectacular aspect often found on larger
ships.Part of the reason for this is that everything,including the the-
ater and main dining room,are on a single level.However,the main
receptionarea is definitely beautiful withits glass ceilingandcurving
lines.The dining experience is more than satisfactory (but limited in
choice of venues) and is served by a friendly staff.
The accommodations also raise the level of luxury for this line.These
are the only vessels in the Royal Olympia fleet that have staterooms
comparable in quality to the main lines.The largest category of
rooms,however,is still somewhat belowthe industry average insize.
But at least they’re more than big enough to avoid tripping over
yourself.Most feature windows,but a few have portholes.Only a
fewof the best suites have a private balcony.One of the nice features
of the cruise experience on these vessels is Olympic’s
expert-in-residence program,whichoffers interestinglectures about
your ports of call.
These ships do not have many facilities appropriate for small chil
dren,so they are not part of the “family friendly” trend common on
many other cruise lines.
The Ships
New Kid on the Block – Oceania Cruises
The latest addition to the roster of cruise lines is Oceania Cruises,
whichwill be makingits maidenvoyage inthe summer of 2003.The
line will have two ships,the Regatta and Insignia,as it begins
operations.These 680-passenger vessels were built in 1998 for the
nowbankrupt Renaissance Cruise line andoriginally went under the
names R1 and R2.They provide a luxury cruise experience at prices
that are more affordable then cruise lines such as Crystal.Oceania
has announced that it will sending the Regatta into the Caribbean,
beginning in January 2004.For more information you can visit the
line’s website at,or call themat (800)
How Big Are They?
There are many ways to determine the size of a cruise ship.Length
and passenger count are two common measures that people go by.
However,a more official standard is the Gross Registered Tonnage.
Every cruise line brochure has this figure,and so does just about any
other decent source of information on cruise ships.But what does it
really mean?Contrary to what most people believe,the GRT is not
howmuchthe shipweighs or howmuchwater it displaces.Rather,it
is the volume of the vessel measured in cubic feet.One GRT is equal
to 100 cubic feet.Thus,a 90,000-ton ship has an area of nine million
cubic feet!That’s pretty darnbigby any measure.Nowthat youhave
this wonderful piece of trivia under your belt,try it out onone of your
unsuspecting fellow passengers.Hopefully,it won’t put them to
shame – or to sleep!
More To Come...
Reading this book,but planning a cruise a year or two down the
road?Or just interested in what’s happening at the shipyards these
days?Either way,here’s a quick rundown on the status of ship con
struction and orders.Many of these future ships will find their way
into Caribbean service at one time or another.
Carnival:Late 2004 will see the introduction of the Valor,another
vessel inthe Conquest class,withthe Liberty slatedfor 2005.This line
will alsointroduce another Spirit-class ship,the Miracle,inthe spring
of 2004.
How Big Are They?
Holland America:A new Vista-class vessel named Westerdam will
join the fleet in the middle of 2004,while two more similar ships will
be added in 2005 and 2006
Princess:The ships that Princess added in late 2003 (the newIsland
Princess and the Caribbean Princess) will be joined by three more in
2004.These will be the delayed Diamond Princess,along with the
Sapphire Princess and the Crown Princess.The latter takes the name
of a previous Princess ship.
Royal Caribbean:Serenade of the Seas,whichjoinedthe fleet inlate
2003,will be followed by Jewel of the Seas in the summer of 2004.
Several more ships in both the Radiance and Voyager classes are also
in the works.
Other lines are adding new ships as well.
Evaluating Ship Itineraries
fter perusing a batch of cruise line brochures you will probably
find that,at least when it comes to Caribbean cruising,most of
the big lines have nearly equivalent itineraries.Commonly visited
ports for line A are much the same as those for line B.As a result,it
would not accomplish much to do an itinerary-by-itinerary analysis
for each of the previously described vessels.The “right” itinerary for
you will be the ship that visits the most ports that are of interest to
you.However,that is not always the full story.So,as you look at the
itineraries in the glossy brochures,keep in mind the following when
making a decision:
Does the itinerary visit the ports that you are most inter
ested in?While no cruise is likely to include every port
that youwant tovisit (since youare not designinga cus
tom itinerary),if it stops at the majority of what you
consider to be the most desirable ports then that is a
good first step.
Howmuch time is allotted in each port?Is it enough for
youtosee most of the things that are important toyou?
The answer to the last question is easy enough because
the port descriptions that follow later in this book will
give youa goodidea of what canbe done inone day.Of
course,if youare goingtobe takingorganizedshore ex
cursions,you will knowin advance exactly what you are
going to be seeing.
Evaluating Ship Itineraries
Even if the number of hours allowed is sufficient,what
about the hours of the visit?Some ships may spend a
significant number of hours in a port but arrive late in
the day,leaving little time for sightseeing before attrac
tions close.This is all right if the types of activities you
are most interested in aren’t restricted to certain hours
or if they fit into the time the ship will be in port.Just be
sure that you factor this into your evaluation.
Compare the amount of time at sea versus that spent in
port.Depending upon the itinerary,a one-week cruise
may have anywhere from one day at sea to four and
stop at as few as two ports or as many as four or five.
Typically,week-long cruises spend two full days at sea.
The relative importance of this will depend upon the
primary purpose of your cruise.Many days at sea are
fine if you are most interested in the cruise experience.
However,if you want a port-intensive vacation you will
not be well served by an itinerary that spends three or
more days at sea.
If other activities such as shopping and water sports are
as important or more important than sightseeing,then
look for itineraries that include the islands where these
activities are considered to be the best.The port de-
scriptions will help you with this aspect of itinerary se-
lection.Cruise lines with their own “private” islands
increase the proportion of recreational activities.
Since everyone has a different idea of what is best,there probably is
no such thing as the “ideal” itinerary.On the other hand,based on
my own evaluation of the available ports,the top itineraries would
include the following (in addition to San Juan and St.Thomas):
Southern Itinerary
I prefer bothArubaandCuraçao.However,one will suffice if Trinidad
and at least one other port is included.
Western Itinerary
At least one Mexican port should be included.Because it is possible
to get to many of the other Mexican ports and attractions in a single
Southern Itinerary
day,which port you call on isn’t of great importance.However,the
central location of Cozumel/Playa del Carmen makes it slightly
advantageous.Two of the following should also be included:
Nassau,Grand Cayman,and a Jamaican port (preferably Ocho Rios,
but Montego Bay or Port Antonio will also do nicely).
While the major ports just mentioned are impor
tant to most cruise travelers,many people look for
the opposite – namely,less visited ports of call.Itin
eraries with these are quite easy to find.However,
in most cases there are only one or two of the less
visited ports on any itinerary.Only on some of the
smaller ships (includingsailingvessels) will youfind
itineraries that are primarily made up of less fre
quently visited destinations.
Ship Activities
t is commontodescribe cruise ships as “floatingresorts,” andthis
is largely accurate.Generally,the larger the ship,the more exten-
sive the facilities and activities.However,even the smallest of the
ships that were previously listed will have more than enough on the
agenda to keep you busy during the time you spend at sea.I’ve
talked to a lot of people who have never cruised and one of their pri-
mary reasons for not havingdone so is that they were afraidof being
bored.Well,I am the type of person who always likes to be busy
while on vacation and I’ve never had that problem.So,put the
thought of possible boredom out of your mind.You may find that
the opposite is true – that youdon’t evenhave enoughtime todoev
erything you want to do.
For some people,of course,the optiontojust relax anddoabsolutely
nothing is an attractive aspect of cruising.And,if that’s what you
want to do,no one will force you to partake in any of the activities.
You can always swim,walk or jog around the deck,or take advan
tage of the full health and fitness facilities that all ships seemto have
these days (includingmassage andspa services).Some of the biggest
ships have golf simulators,climbing walls and even water slides!
Then there’s dancing the night away,watching a movie,wining and
dining until you explode,or being entertained by singers,dancers,
comedians,magicians andwhoknows what else.You’ll alsohave the
opportunity to learn more about the upcoming ports of call from
on-board experts.Perhaps you’re feeling lucky.Casinos are a main
stay of every cruise ship and you’ll find slot machines as well as table
Ship Activities
games.More information on casinos can be found in A Practical
Guide to Your Cruise on page 73.
The cruise staff are a friendly bunch of young guys and gals who are
constantly arranging activities that are a lot of fun,and sometimes
crazy,to help keep you entertained at all hours of the day.Activities
will be of a more “refined” nature on cruise lines like Crystal.
Many people find that one of the nice things about taking a cruise is
the opportunity to make new friends.After a few nights you will
almost certainly get to know your dinner table companions quite
well.Something about cruising seems to encourage camaraderie
and,thus,friendship.Romances may evendevelopas youtravel from
port to port together.It’s up to you.Again,no one is going to be
pointing a finger at you if you decide to pass up some or all of the
social gatherings that are part of a cruise.
It’s safe to say that there is always something happening on board.
Every ship publishes a daily calendar that will be brought to your
roomthe night before.It will informyou of scheduled activities,one
or more of which is sure to whet your appetite.The calendar also has
useful information on procedures for port calls and other events,so
read it carefully each day.
Over the years the cruise staff has become more focused on the edu-
cational aspects of visiting a port.More time and attention is being
devoted to making sure you have the opportunity to learn about
your destinations.These travel education programs take two forms.
The first is the port briefing.Prior to arrival at each port you usually
can attend a session where explanations of local culture and sights
are given.Onsome ships,the talk will be givenfor all ports at the out
set of the cruise.If you miss a port talk,it is usually replayed on a
closed-circuit television channel in your stateroom.Although these
talks are generally quite useful and informative,keep in mind that
the sessions also have a business purpose – namely,to encourage
cruise passengers to sign up for shore excursions.As you will learn in
the Ports of Call chapter of this book,that isn’t always necessary.A
second educational programthat will frequently be encountered is a
lecture by one or more natives of the region or by another expert.
Often accompanied by slides or videos,they can be an interesting
way to learn more about the local culture.Programs of this nature
are usually found more on the traditional cruise lines.
Many cruise lines also offer talks and programs on topics unrelated
to your cruise destination.These can cover just about anything and
range frompersonal finance to health and fitness.You will also find
that certain cruises are “theme cruises,” where many programs are
based on a particular type of activity.
Ship Activities
Take some time during the early part of the cruise to walk around
and explore.This will serve two purposes.First,it will acquaint you
with the ship’s layout so that you can negotiate it with ease after a
short time on board.Some of the ships are so large that this can be
very useful.Moreover,the majority of today’s larger ships are spec
tacular in design and often are filled with works of art.A careful
exploration of your vessel can be an entertaining and eye-opening
experience.It is becoming increasingly common for ships with nota
ble art collections toprovide passengers witha self-guidingtour that
passes the works of art and tells you a little about each one.
The opportunity to look behind the scenes and see how the ship is
operated also interests many people.Open house on the bridge has
historically been one of the most popular activities.However,it is
nowbecoming increasingly rare.Insurance regulations are one hin
drance.Security,which has always been a consideration,is now
more important than ever and,alas,the majority of cruise lines have
now done away with the bridge open house.Perhaps because of
this,touring the ship’s main kitchen has become more popular.
Many ships will notify you when this event takes place.If they don’t,
inquire of your dining room head waiter and he might be able to
arrange a tour for you.There is no doubt that a lot of people are
interested in seeing the “workings” of a cruise ship.Because of this,
many cruise lines have developed video programs on all aspects of
the ship’s operation,which can be viewed in your stateroomon the
ship’s closed-circuit TV system.
Options in Port
nless you have come to the Caribbean only for the pleasures of
the cruise experience,the ports you visit will certainly be one of
the most important aspects of your trip.Selecting the itinerary was
only the first step in planning your land activities.Now it is time to
decide how you are going to see what you have traveled so far to
There are two basic choices:either you use the cruise line’s shore
excursion programof guided tours,or you head out on your own.As
with everything else,there are advantages and disadvantages to
eachapproach,dependinguponyour interests,planningcapabilities
and spirit of adventure to go it alone.Of course,you may have every
reasontotake anorganizedshore excursioninone port andtogoon
your own in the next port.Some places are more suited to individual
exploration than others.
Options in Port
Organized Shore Excursions
A usually long list of shore excursion options will be provided for
each port that your ship calls on.When it comes to sightseeing,I
don’t usually recommend a shore excursion,except in those rare
places (for the Caribbean) where it may be better to go on a tour due
tolocal conditions.Usually these wouldbe because of poor transpor
tation,althoughina fewspots the political conditions may make you
feel more comfortable traveling as part of a group.These consider
ations aside,shore excursions are very popular withthe cruisingpub
lic for two reasons.The first is convenience.You will be picked up at
the ship,takentoall of the places listedinthe itinerary (usually witha
knowledgeable local guide to explain things),and then be trans
ported back to the ship.You don’t have to do any planning,worry
about getting lost,or getting back late and missing the ship’s depar
ture.Onthe other hand,the shore excursions dohave definite limita
tions.Group travel is slower than individual travel,so you will see
less.This becomes even more pronounced if a lengthy lunch stop is
made or if time is allowed for shopping and you don’t want to do
that.Also,and perhaps most important,the excursions often don’t
go to all of the places that you want to see.Finally,shore excursions
are nobargain.Twopeople rentinga car canexpect topay far less for
a day of sightseeing than they would on a shore excursion,even if all
of the activities are the same.
The list of available excursions in each port will be almost identical
regardless of which cruise line you take.The only exception of note is
that some very long excursions may be omitted for those ships
spending a limited time in a given port.The reason for the sameness
is that it isn’t the cruise lines that are operatingthe tours.All the lines
make arrangements with local tour operators.Although the cruise
lines obviously get group rates and claim that they don’t get any
thing out of the independently run excursions,I have some difficulty
in swallowing that.The reason is that the cost of just about every
excursion I’ve examined is virtually identical to the price you will find
by going to a local tour operator and taking the same trip!Now,I’m
not sayingyoushoulddothat because thenyoulose the convenience
of the shore excursion,but doing the math shows that the cruise line
is getting something out of it.
Shore excursions generally take one of two forms.The first is the
sightseeing variety,which is usually a highlight tour,although more
detailed visits to specific points of interest are also common.They
usually also allow at least some time for shopping,whether or not
you’re interested in doing so.The other type of excursion is recre
Organized Shore Excursions
ation-related.These essentially provide transportation to a site to
partake in whatever sport or activity you choose and you can do so
with the camaraderie of your fellow passengers.Some excursions
combine elements of both forms.I generally prefer seeing the sights
on my own.However,for recreational and sporting activities the
organized excursion is often more convenient.Often,as in the case
of golf or tennis,it is the only way for day-trippers topartake inthese
activities because the local resorts usually make their facilities avail
able only to hotel guests.But they often do allowcruise ship passen
gers onexcursions tobe consideredguests for the day.Whether ona
sightseeing or recreational excursion,lunch may or may not be
included,so do check the itinerary.
On Your Own
Travel on your own in port is best done where most of the sights are
close by or where transportation is readily available.It allows you to
see exactly what you want to see,to spend more or less time in a
given place depending upon howmuch you are enjoying it,and also
often allows you to have a better feel for the local people and cus-
toms.In those cases where you have many hours in port and it
includes lunch time,you have the option of returning to the ship to
eat or trying some of the local cuisine on shore.Either of those
options has a greater appeal tome thanbeingherdedas a grouptoa
restaurant chosen by the tour operator.
One possible disadvantage of going on your own is that if you get
lost,or lose track of time,the ship isn’t going to wait for you.It will,
however,always wait for the rare late-returning excursion.When
ever you venture out on your own (except in those tiny ports where
you’ll always be within a fewminutes walk of the ship),take the tele
phone number of the ship’s port agent.If you are going to be a little
late or have any other problem,you can phone ahead and let them
know.Do not,however,use this as a means of getting more time in
port.It should be used only in a genuine emergency.The telephone
numbers will be provided to you,usually in the daily program.If not,
be sure to ask for them.
Complete Cruise Tours
Cruise tours are package plans that combine landtravel either before
or after the cruise – perhaps both.Because the islands are small and
well-suited to being seen on day visits,the cruise lines do not offer
the variety of tour options that they do in places such as Alaska or
Options in Port
Europe.However,extensions of the cruise are available by adding on
hotel nights in your embarkation and/or debarkation city.Whether
you are just staying a night or two extra to take in some more sights,
or are planning a full-blown land package,always compare the price
of what the cruise line is offering with what you can arrange on your
own.In general,you will find that the cruise lines aren’t offering any
bargains.In fact,they are most often overpriced,especially when
you compare the charges to the relatively good value of the cruise
Complete Cruise Tours
APractical Guide
to Your Cruise
hether youare a first-timer or anexperiencedsea voyager,this
Ato Z directory of practical information shouldhelpto answer
many of your questions andmake your cruise a more enjoyable expe
Accommodations on Land
ertainly one of the best parts of cruising is that,once you unpack
your bags in your stateroom,there is no living out of a suitcase.
The ship is your hotel,whether it’s a three-night mini-cruise or a
two-week extravaganza.In some places (such as Europe),many
cruise passengers decide tospendextra time onlandeither before or
after the cruise.That is not the case with most Caribbean cruisers.Of
course,that option is available should you want more time in a par-
ticular place.For the most part,however,the only hotel night youare
likely toneedfor your cruise is inthe embarkationcity.It may be diffi
cult to arrive in time for your cruise if you plan on flying in the same
day.In that case,the cruise lines will often arrange a hotel night for
youas part of your transportationoption.They usually pick out fancy
places withfancy prices,sofindout howmuchthis might cost versus
choosing a hotel on your own.
The cities where youare most likely toneedaccommodations are the
Florida gateways of either Miami and Fort Lauderdale,or San Juan,
Puerto Rico.Accommodations in Miami and Fort Lauderdale are
ubiquitous and range in price and quality frombudget motels to the
most luxurious upscale resorts.All of the national chains are
well-represented in all price categories.If you are simply spending
the night to ensure that you get to your ship in time and don’t plan
on sightseeing or other activities in southern Florida,then it makes
sense to pick out a location that is reasonably close to the cruise ship
terminal in these two cities.In Fort Lauderdale,hotels with shuttle
service to the airport might also have the same service to the adja
cent Port Everglades cruise ship facility.In Miami,the closest hotels
to the port are in downtown Miami,which means that budget
accommodations will be harder to come by.However,the airport
isn’t far either,and that area offers a greater range of prices.
San Juan presents more of a problem for those just trying to make
connections.While there is no shortage of hotels,you will find that
reasonably priced accommodations are in short supply.You may not
mind spending big bucks for a fancy Condado Beach resort if you’re
staying the week,but $200 or more a night simply to wait for your
cruise is another matter.The least expensive way to go here is proba
bly not the major chains but,rather,to seek out smaller independent
Good sources for information on hotels in Puerto Rico are
For other areas,use your favorite search engine and enter
the name of the city or country you want,along with the
word “hotels.” Reservations can be made directly on-line
or through e-mail.E-mail,by the way,is an excellent way
to chat with the proprietors and to get answers to any of
your questions.For Caribbean hotels,there shouldn’t be
any language problem,but if there is you can always use
one of the free web translation services such as
Climate &When to Go
he tropical climate of the Caribbeanmakes it well-suitedtocruis
ing throughout the year.Many ships do spend the entire year in
the Caribbean,while others ply these waters primarily during the
winter months whensnowbirds are tryingtoget away fromthe cold.
Prices are highest during the winter,with the top prices being
charged around Christmas and NewYear’s.Caribbean cruises oper
ate at all times and tend to be crowded throughout the year,but es
pecially during the winter months.Although you can get some good
bargains in the off-season,you should be aware of possible disad
vantages,weather-wise,at certain times.Take a look at the follow
ing climate chart.
Climate & When to Go
Average Daily High &Low
Temperature/Rainfall (inches)
April June August October
Oranjestad,Aruba 87/78/.5 89/80/.6 89/80/.7 89/80/2.6
Nassau,Bahamas 81/69/2.5 87/76/6.4 89/77/5.3 85/74/6.5
George Town,
Cayman Islands
84/77/1.6 86/81/9.6 87/81/6.4 85/79/11
87/78/.8 88/80/.9 89/80/1.4 88/79/3.4
Santo Domingo,
Dominican Republic
84/73/3.9 86/74/6.2 86/76/6.3 86/75/6
Ocho Rios,
85/74/3.4 88/76/7.1 89/77/7.3 88/76/10.5
Cozumel,Mexico 86/72/2 87/74/9.3 87/74/7.4 83/73/5
San Juan,
Puerto Rico
86/73/4.1 89/76/5.4 89/76/6.3 88/75/5.6
Key West,FL 82/72/1.8 88/78/4.6 90/79/4.5 85/76/4.5
St.Thomas,USVI 86/76/2.6 88/79/2.8 88/79/5.5 88/78/7.1
A quick review of the data indicates that there is little temperature
change from one part of the year to another and a relatively small
daily range in all of the ports.In most places around the world there
can be large swings above and below the norms.In the Caribbean,
however,record highs and lows aren’t that far off of the norms.
You can count on beach weather year-round,at least fromthe per
spective of temperature.Rainfall,on the other hand,is more varied
and potentially much more of a problem.Except for a fewsemi-arid
islands in the southernmost region,most of the Caribbean has dis
tinctive wet and dry seasons.If you go to an island which has,for
example,eight inches of rain per month during the wet season,the
chances are high that you will encounter liquid falling fromthe sky
during your visit.This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t go at this
time,but it is one of many considerations if the weather is important
to you.On a positive note,even during the wet season the rain tends
tofall more inbrief heavy downpours rather thanall day long(except
duringmajor storms).So,youshouldsee at least some sunshine even
on those days.
When to Go
Speaking of storms,there is the matter of the hurricane season.
Although the “official” season for tropical storms runs from June
through November or December,hurricanes are most likely to occur
between August andOctober.Cruise ships will change their itinerary
when necessary to avoid a major storm.Although this is not likely to
happen,it is something you should keep in mind if the particular
ports you are visiting are important to you and you are traveling dur
ing the peak hurricane season.In such cases,you might find yourself
with a changed itinerary.Completely cancelled cruises due to the
weather are extremely rare.
logical question to ask is “howmuch is this cruise going to cost
me?” This section will explore all of your potential costs,except
airfare.A fewthings are important to keep in mind before you scan
the prices.Cruise fares are per person,based on double-occupancy.
Persons traveling alone will have to pay what two people traveling
together would pay,or close to it – outrageous by any standard.The
costs belowrepresent the so-called brochure rate,which is equiva-
lent to the rack rate in a hotel.However,before you fall out of your
chair,remember that significant discounts are available off the bro-
chure rate.See further details in the Discounts section of this chap-
The fares shown below are for a seven-night cruise,because that is
what the majority of cruise lines offer.Cruises of less than a week are
generally higher-pricedona per-night basis.Conversely,they tendto
be a little lower per night if the cruise is longer than a week.Within
each cruise line the rates fromone ship to another usually vary only
by a small amount.Now let’s take a look at the prices for regular
staterooms (not suites) onthe major lines,roundedoff tothe nearest
Carnival $1,400-2,800 Holland America $1,600-3,000
Celebrity $1,900-3,500 Norwegian $1,000-2,700
Costa $1,300-2,400 Princess $1,400-3,100
Crystal $3,800-4,900 Royal Caribbean $1,400-3,100
Disney $1,000-3,000 Royal Olympia $1,700-3,000
As you can see,there isn’t that much difference in the ranges from
one line to another,except for Crystal,which is more in the luxury
class.Also note that Crystal’s shortest Caribbean cruise is 10 days.
The price range for the seven-day cruises shown above represents
70%of the cost of their 10-day cruise,allowing you to better com
pare their rates tothe other lines.Likewise,HollandAmerica features
mostly 10- to 14-day cruises but does have some week-long depar
The large range between the lowest and highest prices for the main
cruise lines can be attributed primarily to two factors.The first is the
variationinprices betweenlowandhighseasons.The difference of a
week can sometimes mean a large drop in price.For example,
although winter is the high season,there are often much-reduced
prices in the week or two following New Year’s.The second reason
for the bigrange incosts is that there are somany different classes of
staterooms to choose from.There are almost always a very limited
number of staterooms in the lowest price category.The cruise prices
shown above also include port charges assessed on each passenger,
which are often quite significant.It does not include various other
taxes and fees imposed by different governments.However,com-
pared to port charges,these are not that significant,typically run-
ning fromabout $10 to $70 per person for the entire cruise.
Prices for suites usually beginat afewhundreddollars above the best
regular staterooms.Depending upon howlavish they get,prices can
runwell over $8,000andeven$10,000or more onthe luxury lines.
The only other mandatory expense that you will incur is for tips.
Although there is no “law” that states you must leave a gratuity,it is
common practice;rare,indeed,is the individual who will not do so.
You can expect to spend about $100 per person for a week-long
cruise.More guidelines on this topic will be given in the Gratuities
section on page 94.
Other on-board expenses of an optional nature that you may incur
are as follows:
Drinks and snacks.Both alcoholic beverages and soft
drinks are (withrare exceptions) onafee basis.Since the
cruise staff will constantly be offering you drinks,this
can become quite expensive if you don’t keep a tab on
it.There’s always plenty of free food to be found,but
some lines may charge for things like premium ice
Dining.While all of your on-board meals are free,al
most all of the larger ships have an upscale alternative
restaurant for which an additional fee may be imposed.
Should you choose this dining option,plan on paying
anywhere from$5 to $25 extra per person.
Personal expenditures.This includes a wide variety of
items,including the spa,beauty salon,the on-board
shopping facilities,laundry service and so forth.The
amount youspendonthis category canrunfrompracti
cally nothing to hundreds of dollars.Prices are always
available in advance,so when you receive the bill at the
end of your cruise,the balance shouldn’t come as a sur
The only other significant costs that you should encounter will be for
expenses on shore,either on your own or for guided excursions.
Here,again,the cost will be highly variable,depending upon the
number and nature of the tours you take.If you tour the islands on
your own,you’ll have to figure on the cost of a car rental or taxi,
admissions and so forth.Lunch might also be an added cost,
although you might be able to avoid this by asking personnel
on-board your ship to prepare a box lunch for you,or plan your
schedule so as to return to your ship for lunch.Of course,this is not
always possible without wasting too much time.
See the cost chart for shore activities onpage 117.
ining on board is one of the biggest pleasures of cruising.You’ll
savor wonderfully prepared cuisine (often from renowned
chefs),including delicacies fromthe area of the world in which you
are cruising.In the case of the Caribbean,that’s a wonderful treat in
itself.Be prepared to put on some extra pounds!
In the old days of cruising,shipboard dining was straightforward.
You took most of your meals in the main dining roomand perhaps
hada buffet for breakfast and/or lunch.Howthings have changed.In
addition to the main dining room,almost all of today’s ships have at
least one alternative restaurant.This can take the form of a bistro,
café or other type of specialty restaurant.It is usually open only for
dinner,although you will find that more and more ships have
adoptedother types of eatingfacilities for lunch,includingpizzerias,
grilles and the like.
Although many alternative restaurants have a casual or informal
dress code,youwill alsofindthat some are the opposite – they canbe
the most formal of the ship’s diningvenues.Ingeneral,the larger the
ship,the more alternative restaurants there will be.Some of the larg
est vessels offer three or more.Unfortunately,it is becoming more
common for the cruise lines to charge a fee for one or more alterna
tive restaurants.Sometimes it is only a nominal charge of a fewdol
lars,but it canrange uptoas muchas $20per person.I think that is a
rip-off and hope that it doesn’t become even more of a trend.It is
common for most cruise lines not to operate their alternative restau
rants on the night of the Captain’s dinner,when they want everyone
to be in the main dining room.There may be other restricted eve
nings for specialty restaurants.Make sure you know the policy of
these restaurants regarding reservations,which are often required
because of their relatively small size.
The main dining roomis often the most formal of the ship’s restau
rants.These days it is extremely rare (outside of the luxury cruise
lines) to offer a single-seating dinner – that is,everyone served at the
same time.Much more common is to have early and late seatings.
The early seating commonly begins around 6 pm,although it could
be adjusted slightly to fit in with port calls.Late seatings generally
begin about 2½hours after the early seating.Some people avoidthe
early seatingfor fear that it will be rushed,but I haven’t foundthis to
be a significant problem.You will be given a choice of which seating
you want at the time you book your cruise and every effort will be
made to accommodate your wishes.Don’t be afraid to complain if
you don’t like the table you have been given.It is often possible for
the dining roomstaff to make adjustments.If you have a preference,
such as sitting at a small table,as opposed to a large one with many
people,make this known in advance.
Dinner in the main room is always a multi-course affair and,
although the portions in each course aren’t overly large,nobody
walks away hungry.In fact,the dining room staff on almost every
shipwill gladly accommodate requests for additional servings.Don’t
be shy inasking.Also,if youdon’t see anythingonthe menuthat you
like,make it known.There are usually several items available that
aren’t listed.The cruise line should be notified in advance of any spe
cial dietary requirements.Some of these can be accommodated.Try
not to overeat at these meals because,as you’ll soon see,there are
plenty of other eating opportunities on board.
While a fewlines (mainly the more exclusive ones) may offer compli
mentary wine or other alcoholic beverages a few times during the
cruise,drinks (including soft drinks) are almost always at additional
cost.All cruise ships have a goodselectionof wines andchampagnes
and your wine steward (or headwaiter in some cases) will be happy
to assist you in making the right choice to accompany your dinner.
The more upscale lines,obviously,have a better selection of wines.
Spirits of all types are available throughout the day at numerous bars
and lounges and,of course,during evening entertainment perfor
You may choose to eat breakfast and lunch in the main dining room,
but every ship has a separate buffet for these two meals.Buffets are
casual andallowyou,if youdesire,tomake a quick getaway fromthe
ship while in port.You will not receive any credit for meals missed
while on shore excursions,although guided full-day excursions will
often include a nice sit-down lunch in a carefully chosen local restau
rant.Independent travelers may be able toplantheir port schedule in
such a way as to return to the ship for lunch.
Buffets do vary in size and quality and they can sometimes be spec
tacular affairs.Cruise lines vary as towhether or not the buffet will be
open at dinner time.Dinner buffets are becomingly increasingly
common.Some buffets are “converted” into a specialty restaurant
for dinner.
Three meals a day doesn’t seemto be enough for hungry cruise pas-
sengers.Two other standard features these days are the afternoon
tea (usually about 4 pm) and the midnight buffet.The former is gen-
erally comprised of small sandwiches,pastries and fruits,in addition
to a variety of coffees and teas.As is the case with meals,however,
there is often a charge for other drinks.The midnight affair is usually
heavy on sweets,often sinfully so.Even if a late-night cheesecake
isn’t for you,do at least look at one of these often beautiful and
bountiful displays.See if you can resist taking something!
There are plenty of other opportunities to eat,as well.Sweets,such
as ice cream,are often served out on deck in the afternoon.And,as
alluded to earlier,pizza or hamburgers and hot dogs may also be
available.Charging for ice cream is not yet common,although I’m
aware of at least one line that does impose a fee for “premium” ice
cream.Finally,if you decide that you don’t want to go to the dining
room or elsewhere to eat,room service is a standard feature on all
ships.Sometimes it is available 24 hours a day.
How Many Meals Can You Swallow in a Day?
You’re aware by now that eating on a cruise is a big-time event.
Here’s an example of what’s possible:
Wake up extra-early and have the continental breakfast buffet.
Whenyoufinishtheearly buffet,start theregular breakfast buffet.
Thenhopdowntothe maindiningroomfor aformal breakfast.
Around 10 in the morning you should be able to head to the piz
zeria for a couple of slices.
Time for lunch.Back to the buffet.
Now it’s time for the sit-down lunch in the main dining room.
Afternoon tea is supposed to be light,but even if you have plenty
of those little sandwiches...
…you shouldstill leave roomfor dinner in the main diningroom,
followed by...
…dinner in the buffet or a specialty restaurant.
Wait a bit,then pay another visit to the pizzeria.
Finally,why not try the midnight buffet!
Impossible,yousay.Maybe,for most of us,but I knowsomeone who
can do it (and has).You can even go one better – for Meal 9,try hav
ing the buffet and a specialty restaurant.Then you can make it an
even dozen for the day.Roomservice anyone?
Disabled Travelers
here has been some controversy in recent years about just how
far the cruise lines have to go in order to meet the requirements
of handicapped travelers.The public relations staff working for the
cruise lines will be quick to point out amenities for the handicapped
are provided “voluntarily,” but the fact of the matter is that cruising
can present some difficulties for the disabled traveler.
Almost all major cruise lines can offer rooms that are suitable for
handicapped guests.This is especially true on the larger,more mod
ern vessels.Also,crew members will often go out of their way to
assist those with physical limitations.That’s the good news.The bad
news is that,by their very nature,ships impose limitations for the dis
abledtraveler.Even though you can get fromone deck to another by
elevator,corridors are often narrowand negotiating some areas can
be difficult.
But the biggest problemis actually in port,when it’s time to get on
and off the ship.The majority of Caribbean ports allowmost ships to
tie up at the dock,thereby avoiding use of tenders.However,air
port-style walkways where you directly enter a terminal are rare,
except at the gateway ports.Elsewhere,it is far more common to
have to negotiate a gangplank or stairway.This could be next to
impossible for those with severe physical challenges.As a safety pre
Disabled Travelers
caution,ship lines or captains reserve the option to prohibit physi
cally handicapped passengers fromdisembarking at certain ports if
they deemthe individual would be at risk of injury.
If you have any questions concerning this subject,contact the cruise
line directly and ask specific questions about facilities,including
access at ports of call,relative to your level of handicap.
eeingis not believingwhenit comes toprices listedincruise bro
chures.Every line offers a price reductionfor bookingearly.Some
formof discounted pricing is always shown in the brochure as well.
Most lines offer a straight cash discount,which may begin at around
$400 for lower-priced staterooms and rise to well over $1,000 for
more expensive accommodations.A smaller number of lines give a
percentage off the regular fare,as much as 40%in some instances,
although10%to20%is muchmore common.Additionally,your dis-
count will vary within the same cruise line,depending upon howfar
in advance you book.In general,the earlier you do it,the greater the
discount.Refer to the individual cruise line brochures or your travel
agent for specific cruise line-sponsored discounts.If there’s room
available,you can also sometimes get aboard at a greatly reduced
rate if you wait until the last minute.I don’t recommend this if your
heart is set on a particular cruise – if sales are brisk,a last-minute dis-
count may never be offered.In fact,you might not get on at all.
Another way to cut costs is to book through a discount cruise travel
agent,who buys large blocks of staterooms.Newspaper travel sec
tions are filled with advertisements for such agents.To ensure that
you are dealing with a reputable company,make sure they are a
member of at least one of the following:CLIA (Cruise Lines Interna
tional Association,,NACOA (National Associa
tion of Cruise Oriented Agencies,,or ASTA
(American Society of Travel Agents, are
other reputable travel organizations,but the preceding three are the
standards.Consult your local phone book to find the cruise-only
travel agents in your area.Among the larger national cruise agencies
are Cruises of Distinction, (800) 434-5544;and the
Package deals that include air sometimes work out to be less expen
sive than booking the air and cruise sections separately (see the
upcoming section on Flight Arrangements,page 91,for more
details).But no pricing system is ever static in the travel world.Do
some research.Price things separately and as part of a package deal
andsee whichis the best price at the time.Anddon’t hesitate totell a
travel agent or supplier of a good price you were quoted elsewhere.
They may just beat it.
Since all of the cruise lines are anxious to have your repeat business,
it’s standard practice for them to offer discounts to travelers who
have sailed with them before.These discounts can sometimes be
substantial (usually starting at 10%) and some lines even increase
discounts according to howmany cruises you have taken with them.
The ultimate example of the latter is the Crystal Society of Crystal
Cruises,which offers completely free cruising.That is,you get
increasingly better discounts with each successive cruise that you
take.Startingat 50 cruises,youwill cruise for nothingandthe added
goodies keep on increasing up through 100 cruises.Of course,if you
have the time and money to take 50 cruises on Crystal,you probably
don’t need a free cruise in the first place!
Another way to get credit toward reduced fares is by traveling with a
cruise line’s partners.The “Vacation Interchange Privileges” pro-
gramis offered by six lines,all of which are subsidiaries of Carnival.
For past guests the news seems quite good.But here’s the badnews.
Popular cruise destinations,especially duringpeak travel periods,are
often excluded fromsome cruise lines’ eligible destinations for dis-
Nonetheless,the essential point is that the variety of discounts avail-
able is so great that you should never have to pay the full fare.
Dress (On &Off the Ship)
On Board
Attire during the daytime is highly casual and comfortable.Howyou
dress after dinner depends upon what you are going to be doing.If
you’re going to take in a showor dance the night away,the general
rule is to remain dressed as you were for dinner.Otherwise,you can
return to your cabin and change back into more casual attire.The
dress codes for dinner attire are almost universally referred to as for
mal,informal,and casual.Let’s take a closer look at what each one
Formal attire technically means a tuxedo or dark suit for men and a
gown for women.However,the key word here is “technically,”
because on all but the most formal ships there is a big range in what
people actually wear on the so-called formal evenings.While a lot of
men do wear tuxedos,they aren’t necessarily in the majority.The
dark-suit crowd is always well represented.You will also see quite a
fewmen in suits whose color is definitely not dark,along with some
in sport jackets.So,it all comes down to how comfortable you will
feel if most other men are more dressed up.If that doesn’t bother
you,then you needn’t be concerned about how spiffy you look.
If youwant towear atuxedobut don’t have one,the cheapest option
is to rent one through the cruise line.Each cruise line works with a
tuxedo rental place and they will take care of everything and have
your tuxedo waiting for you in your stateroomupon arrival.
Nowfor the ladies.Gowns of varyingstyle andelegance are predom
inant but,again,there are quite a fewwomen who choose not to be
so fancy.Cocktail dresses and fashionable pants suits are also com
monly seen on formal evenings.Although women may tend to feel
more obligated to dress to the level of the occasion then men do,it
does seemthat the level of formality has been decreasing.Gowns,as
well as other attire for women,can be rented fromthe same places
that provide men’s tuxedos.
Oncruise lines that have formal nights,there are typically twoduring
the course of a week-long cruise.These are the Captain’s dinner
(often the second night of the cruise) and the farewell dinner which
is either the next-to-the-last night or the last night and goes by dif-
ferent names on different cruise lines.Keep this in mind even if you
do intend to followall of the dress guidelines,because for most peo-
ple it will not pay to go out and buy a whole new fancy wardrobe
when you’re going to be using it on only a couple of nights.
Alternative restaurants are often a means of avoiding formal and
even informal dress.But do keep in mind that the alternative restau
rants may not always be open on formal evenings and some of these
specialty eateries have formal dress codes all of the time.
Informal attire is often referred to by the cruise lines as resort attire.
Now,I’m not sure what they mean by this but experience tells me
that informal usually means a jacket for men (either with or without
a tie) and a dress or pants suit for women.This is still common in
many cases,but a number of cruise lines have downgraded informal
dress so that men do not have to wear a jacket at all.A shirt with a
collar will be fine,but shorts are not permitted.For women,any
smart attire will certainly be appropriate.
Casual dress has two meanings,depending upon the time of day.In
the afternoon,anything goes,from cut-off jeans to polo shirts to
Dress (On & Off the Ship)
tank tops and halters.However,casual takes on a somewhat less
casual meaning come dinnertime.For the evening,casual translates
into what most people would call business casual.Not quite any
thinggoes.Specifically,jeans (even“dress” jeans),shorts,halter tops
and any kind of beachwear are definite no-no’s.Sandals and sneak
ers are likewise looked down upon,although nice walking shoes in
goodconditionare all right.Over the past fewyears the distinctionat
dinner between casual and informal has become increasingly
blurred.Some cruise lines have gone so far as to designate only two
types of evening dress – formal and resort casual.
Dress in Port
How you dress when in port depends not only on the weather,but
also on your activities.Casual and comfortable is generally the best
way to dress.Since a lot of people will be going to the beach or par
taking in other outdoor activities,even “sloppy” is usually an accept-
able way to go.However,one should keep in mind that many of the
islands have a rather conservative culture intown,eventhoughnude
beaches may be the normonly a fewmiles away.Thus,showing a lot
of bare skin when not on the beach is often considered to be inap-
propriate.This is especially true if you are going to be sightseeing
and your tour might take you into places such as churches or even
into some small town retail establishments.
While I usually recommendpackinglight,cruisingdoes represent the
one possible exception to this fundamental rule of smart travel.
There are two reasons for this.First of all,you will be in one place for
a length of time,so you don’t have to worry about constantly pack
ing and unpacking.Also,even though the trend has been toward
more casual dress,there is still a great deal of dressing up and many
people,especially women,will want to make sure that they have a
different outfit for each night of the cruise.Heaven forbid that your
table mate might see you in the same outfit more than once!
There is a definite trend by many cruise lines toward giving their pas
sengers a greater degree of flexibility in how they dress,even up to
the point of arranging restaurants in such a manner that there is
always a way to go casual every night of the cruise.This also extends
to the greater choice in dining itself.Various lines give these flexible
programs catchy names such as “personal choice cruising” or
“free-style cruising.” Be sure that you understand exactly what this
means before you pack for your trip.Ask your travel agent or call the
cruise line itself if you have any questions.
Dress in Port
What to Pack
Wise packing extends beyondwhat clothes you are going to
take.Don’t forget to pack the following:
Insect repellent.Brands containing DEET are consid
ered somewhat more effective,but DEET-less brands
are safer,especially for children.
Collapsible umbrella
Sweater or light jacket.Many public areas of the ships
are kept very cool.
Camera and/or camcorder with plenty of extra film,
tapes and battery packs.Although you will be able to
purchase film and other needs in port (as well as on
board ship),the prices are much higher than at home.
Medications.Bringa copy of your prescriptionalongas
well,not only because you might lose your medication,
but to assist in the customs process.Although it is rare
to be challenged by customs officials about this,a pre
scription will help clear things up rapidly.
Finally,don’t forget to bring along all of the necessary
documents.That includes copies of your identification
papers (especially the information page of your pass
port);keep the copies in a safe place separate fromthe
Driving &Car Rentals
lot of American travelers won’t consider driving a rental car
whenthey leave the UnitedStates or Canada.But if youcandrive
in the States,then you can scoot all over the Caribbean as well.
Drivingconditions inthis regionare usually decent.The terrainvaries
from flat to very hilly or even mountainous,depending upon the
Driving & Car Rentals
island.Although the roads are often narrow and twisting,this is
somewhat offset by the generally lowtraffic levels,witha fewexcep
tions – most notably San Juan,Charlotte Amalie,and Nassau.How
ever,you probably won’t be doing any driving in any of those places
except to get out of town.Plan your route in advance and always
have detailedislandmaps.If youcan’t secure these prior toyour trip,
they will be available in tourist offices upon arrival in port.
Since many of the islands derive their heritage from the British,a
number of localities do drive on the left.Although this complicates
things a bit it shouldn’t,by itself,deter you from driving.Just pay
extra attention.Even as a pedestrian,you have to pay extra attention
and remember to look first to the right,then to the left.As a driver it
is helpful if you have a passenger riding in the front with you to
remind you to keep left.Unlike in England,you will find that the
steeringwheel is usually still on the left side,as it is at home,because
most of the cars used in the islands are imported from the United
The places described in this book where driving is
on the left-hand side of the road are the Bahamas,
Cayman Islands,Jamaica,Trinidad & Tobago,and
the US Virgin Islands.The latter comes as a surprise
to many people,since the islands are part of the
United States.
Driving practices by the locals vary fromplace to place but,despite
warnings you’ll often see in other books about the crazy drivers,
they’re generally no worse than you’ll encounter on the roads of the
goodol’ US of A.But always be defensive andwatchout for the other
Rates for car rentals range from relatively inexpensive on some
islands tohighonothers.However,rentinga car for the day is (unless
you are traveling alone) almost invariably cheaper than taking a
guided shore excursion.Moreover,the flexibility of a car allows you
to select exactly what you want to see and to see more than you
wouldwitha biggroup.Onthe other hand,if youdon’t planyour car
rental wisely you could waste a lot of time picking up and returning
the car.
Always rent by the cruise ship terminal,when it is
possible to do so.If this isn’t feasible,use a rental
agency that is close by and will pick you up at the
dock and return you after you drop the car off.
Verify these details before your cruise at the time you reserve the car.
It is not a good idea to wait until your arrival in port to arrange for a
car because many ports have a limited number of vehicles available.
This is true whether or not you use a major car rental chain or a local
For all of the major,and most of the minor,ports in this book,many
of the top American car rental firms are well represented.So take
your pick.The following are especially well represented throughout
the region.Prices are competitive.Infact,onmany islands there is lit
tle difference between one agency and another.This also applies to
the local car rental companies.Their rates aren’t usually significantly
lower than the major companies.Using a major company does have
the advantage of allowing you to simplify multi-port rentals by mak
ing all of your reservations at one time.
Budget Rent a Car, (800) 527-0700;www.bud
- company is especially strong in the Carib-
Avis, (800) 331-1212;
Hertz, (800) 654-3131;
In almost all of the ports,I will also provide the name and contact
information for one or two local car rental agencies that are reliable
and relatively convenient for cruise ship passengers.If they are not
within walking distance of the cruise ship dock they will provide free
pick-up service.
A few more points about driving and car rental in the Caribbean.
First,some islands (particularly those that are or were British posses
sions) require that all drivers fromother countries have a local driv
ing permit.These usually cost anywhere from$5 to $10 and will be
arranged for by the car rental agency at the time you pick up the car.
All you needto get one is to have your home driver’s license.Second,
although most locations have automatic transmission cars available
(at a higher price),there are some places where gettinganautomatic
is next to impossible.If you are not comfortable driving a standard
shift,then you should not plan on renting a car in these places.For
tunately,the list of islands where this is the case is small and limited
mostly to the eastern Caribbean,rather than the ports in this book.
However,southern and western ports where you may not be able to
find an automatic include Bonaire and many of the smaller Central
and South American ports.It is usually easy to get automatics in
most Mexican ports of call because they cater to automatic-loving
Americans.Finally,although a wide range of car types are available,
it is popular to rent Jeeps or other open-air vehicles when spinning
Driving & Car Rentals
around the islands.They go under various fun names such as Mokes
or gurgles and can be a thrill to drive.In fact,however,it is often
much more than a question of fun.In many cases they can be highly
advantageous over regular cars because they are better designed to
deal with the unpaved or rough roads in the interior of many islands.
They are also popular in places where the roads are good and they
aren’t a near-necessity.Just be aware that they are almost always
more expensive to rent than a regular car.
Electrical Appliances &
Other Technical Tidbits
or the most part,cruise ships have the same 110-volt system
found in the United States and their outlets accept the two-pin
plug (including those with third grounding prong) found on all of
your appliances.However,some of the European lines have 220-volt
electrical systems and use the two-round-pin plug that is found
throughout most of Europe.Even these ships may have dual voltage
systems.If the ship you’re traveling on has only a 220-volt system,
you will need a transformer and,probably,an adapter for the plug.
Although they may have some of the latter on board,it is best to
bring your own.
Toensure that you’re properly equipped,ask inadvance what kindof
system is in use on the ship you have selected.The cruise line bro-
chures usually have this information.If not,contact the cruise line
Youshouldalsobe aware that some electrical appliances are not per
mittedonboard.These are usually appliances that heat suchas irons.
If you are the type of traveler who always brings along a host of elec
tronic goodies (other than electric shavers and the like) then,once
again,it is always a wise idea to check in advance concerning the
cruise line’s regulations.
Financial Matters
ince shipboard life is “cashless,” you don’t have to worry about
having a lot of money to carry around with you while you’re at
sea.Once you’re in port,however,it’s another matter,as your cruise
line-issued card won’t be recognized on land!On the other hand,
Financial Matters
most major credit cards (with the exception of Discover) will be ac
cepted in the more heavily visited tourist shops and attractions.
Small privately owned stores may not accept credit cards.This is es
pecially true once you get away fromthe main visitor pathways.The
same rules apply to travelers checks.When in port,you should carry
with you only the amount of cash that you think you might need.
Leave the rest on board in your stateroomsafe if there is one,or in
the safe deposit facilities provided by the purser’s office.
Currency in the Caribbean
Aruba 1.78 Arubian florins
Bahamas 1 Bahamian dollar
Belize 1.97 Belizian dollars
Bonaire 1.78 Netherlands Antilles guilders
Cayman Islands
.82 Cayman dollars
Colombia 2,810 Colombian pesos
Costa Rica 386 colons
Curaçao 1.78 Netherlands Antilles guilders
Dominican Republic 19.3 Domincan pesos
Jamaica 50 Jamaican dollars
Mexico 10.3 Mexican pesos
Panama 1 balboa
Trinidad & Tobago 6.16 Trinidad & Tobago dollars
Venezuela 1,360 bolivars
The good news is that Yankee dollars are almost always welcome
throughout the Caribbean.As a rule of thumb,the more popular the
Financial Matters
destination the more accepted is US currency.However,once again,
this may not be the case in smaller shops,out-of-the-way places and
some of the smaller islands.The lawin Jamaica requires that you use
Jamaican currency for cash transactions;however,this rule is by no
means widely enforced.If you plan on doing a lot of local shopping,
it may be helpful to have some of the correct currency for cash pur
chases.Note,of course,that the US dollar is the official currency in
bothPuertoRicoandthe US VirginIslands.Belowis a rundownof the
various official currencies in use in the southern and western Carib
bean region.Conversion rates were accurate as of press time but are
subject to fluctuation.This is especially true of the more unstable
currencies,such as those in Colombia and Venezuela.In general,
Central and South American currencies fluctuate to a greater degree
than those of the Caribbean islands.
Foreign exchange facilities on your ship are generally limited.If you
need foreign currency and can’t exchange it on board,then use the
nearest ATMmachine in port to withdraw a small amount of cash.
ATMs are common throughout the Caribbean and there is usually
one near each port,if not at the port itself.
Flight Arrangements
very cruise line offers you the option of including round-trip air
transportation with your cruise package.In fact,many price lists
show the air-inclusive rate and you then have to subtract an “air
credit” if you intend to book your own transportation.
Using the cruise line’s air program will certainly be your easiest
option.Everything will be taken care of for you,and transfers
between the airport and your ship at both ends of the cruise will also
be included.If you make your own air arrangements,you will almost
certainly have tomake your way tothe shiponyour own.Also,if sev
eral guests are arriving via a cruise-sponsored air program and the
plane is late,the ship’s departure will be delayed in order to accom
modate those passengers.Don’t expect that courtesy if you’re travel
ing on your own.
So far it sounds like a really good deal to go with the cruise air pro
gram.But there are some potential disadvantages to consider.The
air fares offeredare generally good,but most oftennot the cheapest.
Comparison is the key;you’ll probably be able to find a cheaper air
fare on your own even after adding in the cost of transferring from
the airport to the ship.
Currency in the Caribbean
What makes your task more difficult in comparing flights is that the
cruise lines don’t usually give you detailed information,such as the
airline and departure times,until final documents are issued (usually
about two to four weeks before your departure).You’ll probably
want to book your flight long before that if you’re going to be doing
it on your own.Furthermore,cruise line-sponsored flights are some
times inconvenient as to both routingandtimes.Carefully weigh the
advantages and disadvantages of the cruise line’s air program as
they relate to you,and don’t let the travel agent or the cruise line
bully you into something that you would prefer not to do.
here isn’t a cruise ship afloat that doesn’t have a casino.De
pending on the ship,these can range froma very small roomto a
rather large and elaborate affair reminiscent of Las Vegas.There are
both slot machines and table games.Minimums may be higher than
you are used to fromstateside gaming.The majority of casinos are
operated for the cruise lines by a well known gaming company.For
example,“Caesars Palace at Sea” is the name given to some ship-
board casinos.Regulations prohibit ship casinos from operating
when they are docked in port.Once a ship leaves,however,the
nighttime brings the casino alive.Likewise,if it’s a day at sea,then
the casino will be open all the time or just about all the time.Minors
are not allowed to play.
Don’t expect good odds on slot machines – they’re
tighter than any you would find in Las Vegas or At
lantic City,for example.On the other hand,table
games are more akin to their land-based brethren
in terms of your chances of winning,so you would
be well advised to stick to them.
What about “comp” cruises (i.e.,free cruises) for people whogamble
a lot?Yes,many cruise lines do offer this.But you would have to
guarantee a very large amount.If you are interested,contact the
cruise line of your choice for details.
Getting to Your Ship
already touchedonthesubject of transfers fromtheairport toyour
ship.It’s easy if the cruise line will be providing the transfers
(that is,youbook throughtheir air program).Otherwise,the best bet
in most places is totake a taxi,whichcancost a considerable amount.
Public transportation between the airport and cruise ship terminal in
all of the gateway cities for Caribbean cruises is rather limited and
shouldn’t be considered as a practical solution.That is,do you really
want to lug around four pieces of luggage on a train or bus?
If you choose to take part in a pre-cruise tour of the gateway city,all
transportation to the ship will be included.Independent travelers
will once again have to make their own way but can minimize incon
venience by choosing a hotel that is relatively close to the cruise ship
terminal.Alternatively,if you had been renting a car in the gateway
city you should be able to return it close to the cruise ship terminal.
For instance,all of the major car rental companies in Fort Lauderdale
will provide free shuttle transportation fromthe agency office to the
Occasionally,cruise lines offer an option that allows you to make
your own flight arrangements and add on ground transfers to and
fromthe ship.The fee for this service is oftenvery highandit will usu-
ally be less expensive to take a taxi.Inquire at the time of your book-
ingif this is available andwhat the cost will be.Your first priority is to
allow enough time in making the transfer without missing your
cruise ship’s departure time.The safest way to do this is to be in your
embarkationcity the day before your sailingdate.If youdoplantofly
inontheday of thecruiseitself,agoodruleof thumbis toallowat least
six hours between the scheduled flight arrival and the ship’s departure
time.Insome gateways the transfer process is shorter andmore conve-
nient,so you may be able to cut that down by an hour or two.
xcept for a few lines (mostly the top-dollar luxury lines),gratu
ities for ship personnel are not included in your fare.And,as is
the case throughout the travel and leisure industry,tipping is a way
of life.Most ship personnel that will be directly serving you (dining
roomwaiters,cabin attendants,etc.) do not earn a great salary,and
tips provide a substantial portion of their income.The question of
howmuchtotipinvolves your evaluationof the service providedand
your own personal preferences and beliefs regarding gratuities.
Cruise line management will almost always provide written guide
lines as to what is an acceptable amount to tip.Special envelopes for
this purpose are usually placed in your stateroom near the end of
your cruise,sometimes with the suggested amount written on the
envelope.Remember,these are guidelines only.Don’t be intimi
dated into giving more than you think is warranted or is above what
you can afford.On the other hand,exceptional service is always a
reason to consider tipping above the suggested amounts.Here are
some commonly accepted guidelines:
DiningRoomstaff:$3-3.50per day per personfor your
waiter and about half of that for his assistant.Your din
ing room area head waiter (or captain) should also be
given about $1-2 per day,but in my opinion this can be
reduced,unless he does somethingspecial for you.Like
wise,most cruise lines also suggest tipping the restau
rant manager (i.e.,the maitre d’) but I don’t see the
need for that unless he performs some special service
for you.If youfrequently ask advice fromthe wine stew
ard,thenhe shouldalsoreceive atipof adollar per day.
CabinAttendant:$3-3.50per personper day is accept
able.Some sources recommend a small amount for the
chief housekeeper but,as above,I don’t see the need
for that unless he or she has handled a particular prob-
lemwell for you.
Other Staff:The only other people you will likely have
to consider tipping are bartenders,cocktail waiters and
waitresses,as well as deck hands who help out with the
lounge chairs.These shouldbe tippeda dollar eachtime
you use their services.However,you should be aware
that almost all cruise lines have already included a man-
datory 15%gratuity for those who serve you drinks.So
do not feel obligated to give anything additional.
No tipping of waiters and stewards takes place during the course of
the cruise.Youleave your tipfor all services towardthe very end,usu
ally at the last dinner for your waiter and other dining room staff,
and the evening before disembarkation for your cabin steward.
A fewcruise lines pool their tips.You leave the entire gratuity in one
envelope andit will be sharedamongthose whoprovidedservices to
you.This procedure is rare and is apparently becoming a thing of the
As mentioned before,there are relatively fewlines that include gra
tuities in the cost of the cruise.And don’t fall for the advertisements
of “free” tips on some lines.It simply isn’t true.The price has been
raised to reflect this cost – it just relieves you of the burden of having
to do it on your own.If you’re traveling with a line that does this,
there’s no need to tip any more.On the other hand,if you feel that a
particular crew member’s service has been outstanding,show your
appreciation by providing a small additional gratuity.As of the time
that this book went to press the only mass-market cruise line that
included tips was Holland America.Others that do so are in the lux
ury category and include Radisson Seven Seas,Seabourn and
Silversea.However,an increasingly common practice is beginning to
develop among many cruise lines,whereby your on-board account
will automatically be charged with a set amount each day for tips.At
the present time the mass-market lines that are doing this are Nor
wegian,Princess and some Carnival vessels.Once again,if this is the
case,you do not have to provide any additional tips.Moreover,the
amount charged is not carved in stone.If you feel that the amount is
too high,notify the front desk and they will change it in accordance
with the amount that you specify.
One other variation is practiced by Royal Olympia.Although the tip
ping guidelines are the same as elsewhere,you submit all tips in a
single envelope and distribution will be made to the appropriate
staff according to rules of the Greek seamen’s association.Because
gratuity policies cananddochange fromtime totime (the aforemen-
tioned practice of automatically billing tips to your account seems to
be growingrapidly),it is always best toconfirmthe policy at the time
of booking and again just prior to departure.
ost people never give a second thought to health conditions
on cruise ships and,for the most part,there is little need to do
so.However,as with any place that serves food,there can be occa
sional instances of food poisoning (usually mild).It is also not en
tirely unknown for there to be outbreaks of other illnesses,because
youhave a lot of people concentratedinrelatively close quarters.The
Norwalk virus struck a sizable number of ships in late 2002 and sick
ened several hundred people,mostly with a rather mild condition
akin to the so-called “24-hour” virus.
While I don’t see the need to take any special precaution,beyond
what youwoulddowhengoingtoanyplace where alot of people are
present,there are some who may be a bit more skittish about these
things.If so,the best place for information on sanitation for a
particular cruiseshipis fromthegovernment’s Centers for DiseaseCon
trol &Prevention.Their website( has
thelatest sanitationinspectionreport andratingfor eachship.Youcan
also call themat (888) 232-6789.
Turning now to the question of health on shore,the Caribbean is
generally a pretty healthy place to visit.You shouldn’t encounter
anything unusual,but some special precautions are worth mention
ing.You will often be tempted by the delectable appearance of food
in local markets.While most places are safe,one never can be quite
sure about things like fresh fruit and produce,so I suggest avoiding
it,unless you have been told by ship personnel that a particular loca
tionis knowntobe safe.Restaurants are usually all right if they are in
major hotels that cater to American visitors.When patronizing other
local restaurants a little caution should be exercised.
In general,if the economic development of the island or country is
fairly high (e.g.,Cayman Islands,Aruba,etc.) there is little to worry
about.However,in poorer areas such as Jamaica,you might want to
return to your ship for lunch and avoid local snacks unless you have
been specifically advised that certain places are all right for eating.
The Caribbean sun is strong all year round.Don’t spend a long time
onthe beachor by the ship’s pool onyour first day or secondday out.
It is best to slowly increase the amount of exposure time each day.
When touring it is a good idea to wear light-colored clothes that
breathe.Exposing a lot of skin seems natural,but that is not the way
to protect yourself or even to keep cool.Covering up a bit,and wear-
ing a hat,is always a good idea.
Stingingandbitinginsects are,of course,numerous inthese tropical
areas.If you are goingto be hikingin the backcountry,wear clothing
that covers as much skin as possible.Use of an insect repellent is
mandatory in such situations.For casual sightseeing or relaxing on
the beach,you aren’t going to encounter any dangerous insects
(unless you have an allergic predisposition).Again,an insect repel
lent is still wise.There is only one snake anywhere in the Caribbean
that is poisonous – the fer-de-lance.It is found mainly in some of the
eastern Caribbean islands.In fact,the only island in this book where
it resides is in Trinidad,and you will never encounter it unless you go
hiking in rural areas.
The manchineel tree,which is common on many Caribbean islands,
may look pleasant enough,but you should avoid sitting under it or
touching it,especially during or after a rain.The rain causes the poi
sonous sap to drip off the tree.The sap can cause painful blistering.
Moreover,the fruit of the manchineel (which looks much like a small
greenapple) is very poisonous.Most manchineel trees are markedby
the local authorities andit is not that commontoencounter one that
hasn’t been identified.Still,if you plan to be doing a lot of outdoor
activity,be aware of what the manchineel looks like so you can avoid
the sneaky unmarked ones.The manchineel can growas high as 30
feet,but it is often much smaller.It has small dark green leaves with
yellowish stems.Since the tree is found near the beach,the best
immediate first aid should you get the sap on your skin is to go into
the water and wash it off.Seek medical attention in cases where you
have eaten the fruit.
Jellyfish are common in tropical waters.If you see themor are told
that there are a lot of jellyfish present in a given area you should
avoid swimming there.Although contact with these creatures isn’t
particularly dangerous in most cases,the painful repercussions of a
sting can be most unpleasant.Also,remember that coral has sharp
edges and can cause a nasty gash.
Passports,Customs &
Other Considerations
ouwill have topresent proper identificationpapers tothe cruise
line before youembark.It is your responsibility tomake sure that
everything is in order,not only for getting into each port but for re-
turning home.All of the Caribbean island ports covered in this book
have very easy documentation requirements for Americans.Al-
though a valid passport is always the best form of identification
(most of the island nations will even accept an expired passport),if
you don’t have a current passport then you should carry an original
or certified copy of your birth certificate (with raised seal) and a
government-issued photo identification card such as a driver’s li
cense.These same documents will be sufficient to get you back into
the UnitedStates if the places youvisiteddidn’t require passports.
For Belize and other Central or South American nations,a passport is
required.At the present time visas aren’t required.However,since
requirements can change,it is a good idea to check with the cruise
line before your trip to make sure that no new wrinkles have been
added.This is especially true if you are going to be visiting a South or
Central American port.Mexico,which requires short-term visitors
fromthe UnitedStates tohave tourist cards,waives this requirement
for cruise ship passengers.However,if you are going to be traveling
independently while in Mexican ports,it is also a good idea to verify
that this is still the policy prior to your departure.
You’ll soon be reading about shopping in the islands.If you are like
most cruisers to the Caribbean,you are going to be bringing home
some items that you didn’t leave home with!So,let’s talk a little
Currency in the Caribbean
about customs allowances and duties.These regulations can get
rather complicated,so if you plan to bring back goods worth a lot of
money it could be worth your while to contact the US Customs Ser
vice for one of their helpful publications on figuring customs duties.
While the usual exemption(assumingyouhave beenout of the coun
try for more than 48 hours) is $400 per person,all of the countries
covered in this book are allowed a $600 exemption in order to pro
mote economic development.Included in this amount are two liters
of alcoholic beverages.There are also limitations on cigars and ciga
rettes.There is a duty of 3% on the first $1,000 excess over the
exemption.Beyond that,the rates get really confusing,but most
people won’t be affected.Note that purchases in Puerto Rico count
as having been bought in the United States.The US Virgin Islands
have a special exemption of $1,200 per person.
The “duty free” shoppingadvertisedinmany Carib
bean ports has absolutely nothing to do with US
Customs duties.It simply refers to the fact that
there is no local tax on the items you purchase.All
of these are,however,subject tothe foregoingreg-
ulations and limitations.True “duty free” shopping
does apply topurchases made onboardyour ship.
Payments,Cancellations &
Cruise Documents
lthough payment procedures for your cruise and the process of
issuing cruise documents do differ somewhat from one cruise
line to another,there are so many similarities that some general
guidelines are possible.
At the time you book your cruise you will be reqired to make a
deposit.This is usually around $250 per person for a week-long
cruise.Longer trips and some of the more expensive lines might
require more.Although it isn’t unknown to have to make a second
payment after the deposit but before final payment,it is more com
mon that your second payment will be the final one for the balance
of your fare.This will be due anywhere between 60 and 90 days
before your scheduled date of sailing.If you book after the full pay
ment deadline,youwill,of course,have topay the full amount at the
time of booking.Options are available to pay for your cruise on a
loan basis.This does wind up costing more,of course.
Payments,Cancellations & Cruise Documents
All cruise lines have a schedule of refunds should you be unable to
take the cruise.This also varies according to cruise length but a typi
cal penalty schedule will look something like this:
prior to full payment
requirement date
30-60 days before sailing your deposit
8-29 days before sailing half of the total fare
a week or less before sailing the entire fare
So,if youthink there is any possibility that youmay have tocancel,or
you just don’t like to take chances,consider purchasing trip insur
ance,either through the cruise line or an independent company.
Documents will generally be sent toyou(throughyour travel agent if
you used one) anywhere from two weeks to a month prior to your
scheduled departure date.Some lines will,upon request,issue them
earlier but this will always be at an additional cost.There are also
hefty fees for reissuing documents.Documents,by the way,consist
of your actual cruise tickets,any other forms required by the cruise
line,and informational packets.Shore excursion information and
order forms are also commonly included,even though an increasing
number of cruise lines now offer this service over the Internet.
Safety on Shore
ecause so many cruise passengers can’t wait to get off the ship
and start swimming,snorkeling,diving or otherwise partake in
water sports,the issue of safety while doing so is of considerable im
portance.Be aware of your own skills and limitations.Take the time
to find out about surf conditions at the various local beaches before
selecting the one that is most appropriate for your level of ability.
Never go snorkeling or scuba diving alone,even if you are proficient
at it.Novices should pay particular attention to local conditions.It is
best to snorkel in protected waters.Going on guided snorkeling ex
peditions is a good idea if you are tackling more open waters.And,
once again,be aware that coral reefs are sharp!
Whenit comes tocrime,youshouldexercise the same precautions as
you would anywhere else.Although traveling with an organized
Safety on Shore
shore excursion will always be “safer” than on your own,be advised
that such nuisances as pickpockets are used to operating in crowds
and can even infiltrate your tour group.So,no matter how you go,
leave as many valuables as possible on the ship.Take with you only
what you are going to need for the day,including money.If you rent
a car,do not leave anything of value visible on the back seat and
always be sure to lock your car upon leaving it.
Most of your shore time will be during daylight hours.If,however,
you are out at night,stick to the main tourist areas.Even during the
day it isn’t usually a good idea to go wandering around in towns
away fromthe visitor attractions where youdon’t knowthe territory.
On islands where driving is on the left side,be especially careful both
as a driver and as a pedestrian.Remember that when you cross the
street youhave tofirst look tothe right.Most of the ports inthis book
have less crime than the average American city.
However,there are definitely a fewplaces that warrant special atten-
tion to your personal safety.
Cartagena &Other Colombian Ports
Colombia has a well-earned reputation as an unsafe place,with its
drug cartels and political violence.The State Department usually has
various advisories and cautions about traveling in Colombia.How-
ever,the goodnews is that,for the most part,these troubles seemto
have largely spared Cartagena.If there is a “safe” city in Colombia,
Cartagena may well be it.Even so,crime is rampant in many parts of
the city,so you should be more careful here than in most places.
Guidedexcursions are the best way tosee the sights.What the future
will bring in the unstable political climate of this country is hard to
say.Up to this point,the cruise lines have not seen a need to pull the
plug on visits to Cartagena,so you shouldn’t be unduly concerned
either.The same applies to the lightly visited port of Santa Maria.
Also,the infrequently visited offshore island of San Andrés has,at
least up until now,been quite safe.
Panama isn’t the safest place in the world when it comes to street
crime andColón is,unfortunately,the worst spot in this country.The
city is also rather ugly and crumbling,which can make you feel
unsafe even when no one of a threatening nature seems to be
Safety on Shore
around.Youare better off seeingthe area by guidedshore excursion,
especially since none of the points of interest are withinthe city itself.
All Jamaican Ports
This is another place that has,over the years,seenmore thanits share
of crime.However,despite the publicity received a couple of years
ago when rival gangs waged virtual warfare against the police in
Kingston,things aren’t out of control.Kingston is definitely more of
a problem than the tourist towns of Ocho Rios,Montego Bay and
Port Antonio.In Kingston,especially,don’t wander away from the
main tourist attractions and be particularly cautious of people who
approach you.Even in other places,you will be better off sticking to
the main tourist routes and attractions.Make sure your taxi driver
has been licensed by the government if you use that formof trans
portation.Do not patronize local bars (other than those in hotels
where foreign tourists stay).That is sound advice in most places
throughout the Caribbean and just about all over the world,but is
even more important in Jamaica.
La Guaira/Caracas
Caracas in the past never seemed to pose more of a problem
safety-wise than other large cities.However,recent widespread
opposition to the current leadership has resulted in massive street
demonstrations,strikes and some violence.The latter has,fortu
nately,so far been limited and not targeted at visitors.The situation
has,no doubt,caused a lot of potential visitors to think twice about
any itinerary that includes Venezuela.While there doesn’t currently
seemto be any great need to take other than the usual precautions,
the situation is fluid and may change for the worse.So,you might
want toseriously consider the guidedtour route here.Also,be onthe
watch for any State Department advisories concerning this country.
Visitors to Venezuela’s Margarita Island need not take any special
precautions at this time.
La Guaira/Caracas
Ship Security
hile it is impossible to be totally safe fromcrime in any envi
ronment,there is little doubt that cruise ships are one of the
safest places to be.Fewthings are as rare as a person being mugged
while onboardacruise ship.Onthe other hand,younever knowwho
is traveling on the ship with you,so a fewsimple common sense pre
cautions are still advisable.Don’t leave cash or other valuables on
display inyour room(use the in-roomsafe that many ships provide or
check it for safekeeping).Also,always be sure that your room is
locked upon leaving.
What more people are concerned with in the aftermath of Septem
ber 11,2001 is the quality of ship security.Most of the cruise lines
were paying more attention to this than the airlines were,even
before that eventful day,but they have certainly beendevotingmore
attention to it as of late.It is virtually universal practice in the cruise
industry to X-ray all baggage that is being checked in for delivery to
your cabin.You will have to go through metal detectors like those at
an airport as you enter the cruise ship terminal.Inspection of
carry-on luggage may also be done.You will be required to show
proper identification before being allowed to embark.This will
almost certainly be required each time you return to the ship froma
day in port (in addition to the ID card that was issued to you for the
ne of the first questions you are likely to be asked by friends and
relatives after returning froma Caribbean cruise is “what did you
buy?” While shopping is,for many people,a large part of any vaca
tion,nowhere is this more true thaninthe Caribbean.The islands are
considered a shopping mecca by many for a host of luxury items (es
pecially fine Europeanimports).Jewelry of gold,silver andlocal gem
stones is popular,as are watches,perfumes,crystal,china,porcelain,
linen,cameras and clothing.These are supplemented by local handi
crafts made froma variety of materials,including straw,wood,vari
ous sea shells,and fabrics.Colorful island clothing is a popular
example of the last item.Finally,there is a high demand for alcoholic
beverages of various kinds but especially locally producedrumandli
Ship Security
The key factors are not whether you’ll find something that you love
andjust “have to take home,” but whether the price is good,andthe
quality can be trusted.The answers are complex and merit some fur
ther consideration.I don’t pretend to be the ultimate shopping
expert,but have foundthat Caribbean prices for the same goods can
range fromexcellent to outrageous.Quality goods can certainly be
found.Don’t assume,however,that because a particular port is
notedfor a certain itemthat the prices will always be reasonable and
that the quality is first-rate.This isn’t so important if you’re just buy
inga colorful print shirt or blouse.If youlike it,fine.Buy it andwear it
happily.But jewelry and other expensive items such as crystal are
something else again.If you would not buy these items on your own
at home because you can’t tell the good stuff from the bad or
because you don’t know if the price is reasonable,then the same
rules should apply when you are on vacation.Don’t buy it without
A lot of people who have already been to the Caribbean on a cruise
will tell you that the cruise staff knows all the best places to get a
good buy on the best-quality merchandise.Furthermore,many
cruise lines will guarantee an item if you buy at specific locations.
This is true,to a limited extent.Cruise-recommended shops can gen-
erally be relied on to give you good quality.But this does not mean
the prices are right.And those cruise line guarantees at specified
stores sound a lot better than they really are.There are a host of limi-
tations (which vary from one cruise line to another) and getting a
refund or adjustment can often be a frustrating process.Read the
fine print concerning any guarantee very carefully and be sure you
understand it before buying something because you assume the
cruise line will back it up.One thing is certain – none of their guaran
tees covers a change in heart.Once the ship leaves port and you
decide that you don’t like what you bought after all,you can defi
nitely forget about getting your money back.
Sports &Recreation While in Port
he possibilities for outdoor recreation in the Caribbean are al
most endless,althoughthe most popular activities are,naturally,
connected with the sea.In most cases you will have the option of
seeking out one or more of these options on your own.However,
many of the cruise lines’ shore excursions are simply organized ways
to take part in popular outdoor activities.This can mean providing
transportation to a popular beach or fully escorted adventures.
Here’s a rundown of what you can do while in port.More specific in
formation will be provided under the individual ports of call.
It’s usual to see plenty of golf bags being loaded onto the ship along
with the other luggage.Almost all of the ports of call in this book
have fine golf courses.Many islands have several courses to choose
from.Although there are quite a fewpublic or semi-private courses
that youcanarrange toplay at onyour own,the easiest way is totake
one of the many golf shore excursions.These have the convenience
of providing transportation,no-hassle access to the course,and the
opportunity to make friends by playing with the same group of peo
ple.These excursions are usually quite expensive,however.Some
cruise lines go so far as to arrange golf-themed itineraries where you
can try out the links at several different ports of call.
Traditional line fishing is popular fromthe shore or piers or on char-
ter fishing boats.Anglers will find an incredible variety of species.
The roster includes,but is certainly not limited to,amberjack,barra-
cuda,bonefish,bonito,dolphin fish (mahi mahi),grouper,kingfish,
wahoo.As you can see,the choices are heavily weighted toward big
game fish,making the Caribbean a true sportsperson’s paradise.
Althoughthere is excellent fishingall year round,most of the biggest
game fish are especially plentiful during the summer months.Just
about every islandhas almost the same variety of fish.The Caribbean
is a popular spot for spearfishing.Most American fishermen and
women won’t be experienced in this style of fishing,but lessons are
available.Fishing expeditions are also available as part of shore
This activity runs the gamut fromeasy walks on relatively flat terrain
to trekking through the mountains found on many of the islands.
Experienced hikers will no doubt prefer exploring on their own to
some of the packaged hikes available as shore excursions.Another
popular activity that can be part of the hiking experience is bird
watching,since many of the islands have lots of colorful and often
unusual bird species.
Sports & Recreation While in Port
Horseback Riding
Many resort areas have horseback riding,and seeing the interior of
some of the islands this way is amost interestingandeffective way to
explore.However,it is often difficult to arrange for these trips as a
day visitor (that is,if you are not a paying guest at a hotel).Check
with your cruise line about shore excursions that include horseback
In the Caribbean,this activity is primarily limited to Jamaica.
Just about every port has countless operators offeringall sorts of sail-
ing experiences,froma fewhours to an entire day.Again,these will
frequently be available through the ship’s excursion desk.Sailing
takes many forms,fromactual sailingvessels toall sorts of motorized
craft large and small.Boat trips can also be a way of sightseeing or
partying – maybe both.
Scuba Diving &Snorkeling
These are among the most popular sports in the Caribbean.Indeed,
this is one of the foremost places in the world for diving due to sev
eral factors.These include the clarity of the water,the marvelous
coral reef formations (which are usually very close to the shoreline),
and the abundance of colorful marine life.Both activities can be
done on almost every island (and the Mexican Caribbean coastline),
but perhaps the easiest is where they have officially designated and
marked “underwater trails.” Equipment rentals are readily available
either onyour ownor throughexcursions offeredby the cruise line.
Taking a plunge into the blue waters of the Caribbean is an irresist
ible urge for many people,despite the availability of swimmingpools
on board.As good as a pool might be,there’s no doubt that Carib
bean-style beachgoing– includinglovely andoftenquiet white sand
beaches in secluded coves – is a prime objective,especially for
sun-starved snow birds fromup north!
Because most tennis courts are part of resort complexes,the casual
visitor walkingoff a shipmay not finda place to play.If you are inter
ested,then browse through your ship’s shore excursion folder to see
what tennis packages are offered.
Wind Surfing
Some of the islands have especially favorable windconditions for this
sport and its relatives,such as parasailing.Water skiing is even more
readily available since it isn’t as dependent on local trade wind
Telephone Service
eing on a cruise ship doesn’t mean that you have to lose touch
with friends and family back home – or even business contacts
(for those unfortunate souls who can’t separate themselves from
their work).In the old days,it was a complicated and very expensive
procedure to place a call.Today it’s just expensive,but not as bad as
it was.The expense isn’t because of technology limitations but be-
cause the cruise lines make some extra money on the deal.Every
stateroom on every modern ship has its own direct-dial telephone
that can be used to call anywhere in the world.Dialing procedures
vary fromshiptoship,soconsult the informationguide inyour room
or ask for assistance fromthe ship’s operator.Prior todeparture,you
will be givena telephone number (usually toll-free) that people inthe
United States can dial to reach your cruise line’s overseas telephone
operator.All they then have to do is informthe operator which port
youare inandthe call canbe completed.Note that the recipient (that
is you) is the one charged for incoming calls and this may not be any
less than if you made the call in the first place.
In general,per-minute rates for either in- or out
bound calls on the ship range from$7 to $10.
Aless expensive alternative for callinghome is towait until youare in
port and use a credit or calling card.Just make sure which countries
are valid origination points for a call on the card you intend to use.
Telephone Service
Also,in some countries,the public phones have a fee for you to
access your calling card system.In such cases the cost is minimal and
the easiest way to have the proper amount is to purchase a
small-denomination local calling card.(Some areas still have
coin-operated telephones).The larger ports almost invariably have a
telephone call center at the dock.Here you can place calls without
having to bother getting a local calling card.This may be the most
convenient way to call fromthe islands.Prices vary fromone port to
another,withsome beinginexpensive andothers sky high.However,
it will always be less costly than calling fromyour ship.
Finally,your cell phone might just work in some locations,depend
ing on the distance fromyour cell company’s nearest satellite link.If
most of your port calls are relatively close to the United States you
should take your cell phone along and see if it works.It could be a
money saver.
When making local calls within an island you just have to dial the
number.International calls are generally simple since most of the
Caribbean countries use the area code systemlike the United States.
(That is,dial “1"+area code +local number.) However,depending
on the country,you may have to dial the ”001"international access
code tocall the UnitedStates before the areacode andlocal number.
Since you might have to call to the Caribbean before your trip either
for information or reservations,the telephone numbers listed in this
book will be of two types.The first shows a three-digit area code fol-
lowed by the seven-digit local number.These are like making inter-
state calls in the United States.If the country is not on the area code
system,you will be able to tell that by the fact that an “011"prefix is
given.This is the international access code that you should dial from
the United States before the full number.It is not necessary to use
this (or other area or city codes) for local calls when you are in one of
these countries.
Internet Service
Computer lovers will be glad to hear that the majority of today’s
cruise ships nowhave PCs available for passenger use,although usu
ally at a rather exorbitant fee.Fees vary,but everything you do at
home canbe done onboard,includingsendingandreceivinge-mail.
Internet Service
Time Zones
he area coveredby this book spans three time zones,soit is likely
that you’ll have to reset your watch a couple of times during the
course of your cruise.One thingthat’s nice about cruisingis howwell
informedyouwill be kept of eventhe little things – includingwhento
set the time back or ahead.All of the Caribbean observes Daylight
Savings Time,althoughthe exact dates canvary fromone locationto
Eastern Time:All Florida ports,the Bahamas,Cayman Islands,
Jamaica,Haiti,Panama,and Colombia.
Central Time:All Mexican ports and those in the Central American
nations (except for Panama).
Atlantic Time:This time zone is one hour later than Eastern time.It
includes Puerto Rico,the Virgin Islands,Dominican Republic,Aruba,
Bonaire,Curaçao,Trinidad & Tobago,and Venezuela.
Traveling With Children
lthough children are more commonly seen on cruises these days
than in the past,this is still the type of vacation that appeals
more toadults thantothe little ones.This is not meant todiscourage
youfrombringingyour children,but towarnyouthat it might not be
their favorite vacation.Some cruise lines are more child-friendly than
others.In general,the more sophisticated the cruise line (such as
Crystal),the less child-oriented the ship.On the other hand,you
don’t have to restrict yourself to the Disney Cruise Line if you have
small children.Many others,including Carnival,are also good
choices.Children may not particularly enjoy the shopping and sight
seeing in Caribbean ports,but they will probably love the swimming
and other outdoor activities.They might also be thrilled by the old
forts and ruins of ancient civilizations.You can count on just about
every major ship to have an extensive program for children.Most
have supervisedactivities all day longandintothe evening.These are
usually groupedby age,soteens won’t be boredby activities that are
geared to younger children.Teens can also join in special social pro
grams and dances for their age group and usually find these a good
way tomeet newfriends.Any specific questions youmay have about
children’s facilities and activities should be directed to your intended
cruise line before you book.
Time Zones
Zo,It’s Your First Time Cruising...
ha!Thought you caught our intrepid editor with a typo!Not
quite.I didsay this chapter was goingtocover practical informa
tion fromAto Z,didn’t I?Seriously,being a rookie cruiser is no cause
for concern,although newcomers will certainly have some addi
tional questions.Vacationingona cruise shipis really like stayingat a
full-service resort that’s on the move.Most things are done for you,
including the handling of your baggage to and fromyour stateroom
upon embarkation and disembarkation.You’ll find that cruises are
well-organized and efficiently managed,especially given the large
number of passengers.If you have any questions or concerns,just
ask a crew member – they’re always happy to help.Here are a few
things that first-time cruisers should be aware of:
Documents:It is the general policy of all cruise lines not
to issue your documents (i.e.,cruise tickets) until about
three to four weeks prior to your embarkation.Consult
the brochure of the line you select to be sure what the
timetable is.If you don’t receive themwithin a fewdays
of the latest scheduled time,then contact your travel
agent (if applicable) or the cruise line.Some lines will
agree to send documents early but usually charge a
hefty fee for doing so.Along with your tickets,you will
receive lots of other goodies,including more brochures
to answer your questions and information on shore ex-
cursions.These days many lines allowyoutobook inad
vance via the Internet or other means,so you may
already have this information by the time you get your
Seasickness:Motion sickness is not usually a problem
for most people.Although portions of the Caribbean
are more prone to rough seas and storms than you
would encounter on an Alaskan or Mediterranean
cruise,today’s large cruise ship is stable enough to pro
vide a comfortable ride even during unsettled weather.
If you have a history of motion sickness (and that is
what seasickness is) thenanounce of preventioncanbe
very useful,since it is easier to prevent this malady than
to treat it.Non-prescription drugs such as Dramamine
and Meclazine (stronger forms require a prescription)
are highly effective in preventing motion sickness.
They’re most effective if youtake themseveral hours be
fore you set sail.If bad weather is anticipated,then you
First Time Cruising?
would be well advised to take them beforehand.You
should consult your physician about these drugs if you
are taking any other medication.
If you should get seasickness symptoms,these drugs
will provide some relief.How much seems to depend
upon the degree of illness and the individual.Symp
toms can be minimized by focusing on the horizon,
which helps you regain your balance.Some people say
that placing an ice cube behind the ear may also offer
relief.The ship’s doctor will have his or her own home
remedies as well.
Time Schedules:Although delays can occur for a vari
ety of reasons,all cruise lines are known for their com
mitment to punctuality.The greatest possibility for
delay is from your port of embarkation (because the
ship might be waiting for late arrivals due to airline de
lays).At each port of call you will be provided with a
time schedule that tells you when to be back on board.
Comply with this schedule,as the ship will not wait
long,if at all,for the tardy individual traveler.
Identification Card:Every cruise line today operates
with a sophisticated systemfor keeping track of who is
on board and who is not.You will be issued a plastic
credit card-like identification card that permits you to
get back on board at each port.Be sure you have it with
you before disembarking – not a problem since you
won’t be able to get off the ship without it – along with
your other identification documents.This same card
will also be used for charging all on-board purchases to
your stateroomaccount.
Safety:This is of utmost importance to the ship’s crew.
Pertinent safety instructions are posted in each state
room and you should familiarize yourself with all of
them.Every cruise will have a lifeboat drill soon after
embarking (some might even have it before the ship
leaves its gateway port).You are required by lawto at
tend.You should be fully aware of emergency proce
dures,as should your children.The drill (you don’t
actually get intothe lifeboats) is actually kindof funand
colorful for the first-time cruiser.
Although it looks romantic in the movies,don’t sit on the ship’s rail
ing or lean over.You never knowwhen you will slip or the ship might
suddenly roll a bit because of the waves.It is alsoimportant that your
Zo,It’s Your First Time Cruising...
children understand this.It is rare that people fall overboard,but it
can and does happen,mainly because they had too much to drink
and were feeling momentarily invincible!If you see someone fall
overboard,try to toss a life preserver to them.After that,or in lieu of
it if you are not near a preserver,notify the nearest crew member
immediately.And as for that romantic pose on the bowof the ship –
forget that,too,if the ship is moving.They never tell you in the bro
chures or inthe movies that you’ll practically be blownaway tryingto
stand there while underway.Wait until you’re in port to get that pic
ture for your scrapbook!
Although I’ve tried to anticipate all of the areas where you might
have questions,it isn’t always possible to cover everything.If there is
something on your mind that hasn’t been answered,the best course
of action is to call or e-mail the cruise line and ask them.
First Time Cruising?
The Ports Of Call
eople visit the Caribbeanfor numerous reasons,includingthe re
sort atmosphere,shopping,recreation,and seeing the sights.
While you can do all of these in most of the Caribbean,some ports
are better than others for particular activities.The descriptions that
follow will give you a better idea of what each is best suited for.In
this way you will be better equipped to select an itinerary that inter
ests you,as well as having a plan of action upon your arrival.
Gateway Ports
ranslated into simple English,a gateway port is the city in which
your cruise ship embarks and disembarks (that’s nautical talk for
departs and arrives).Almost all Caribbean cruises are a loop,mean-
ingthat they returntothe point fromwhichthey left.However,there
are some one-way itineraries,shouldthat be more appealingtoyou.
The Major Gateway Ports
The largest number of Caribbean cruises,regardless of where they
are headed,originate fromone of three cities – Miami,Fort Lauder
dale,and San Juan.The farther south the cruises go,the more likely
that the gateway port will be San Juan.This is because of the great
distance fromFlorida to the southern Caribbean.Since most Carib
bean cruises are for one week,a Florida departure would not allow
time to visit many ports in the southern section.However,itineraries
visiting the western Caribbean normally leave from Miami or Fort
Port Canaveral,in central Florida,is also an embarkation point for
several cruise lines.Most departures fromPort Canaveral are eastern
Caribbean itineraries,although many trips that just go to the Baha
mas use this gateway as well.Port Canaveral is known primarily as
the home port of the Disney Cruise Line.Its location is less than an
hour fromthe Orlandoarea,whichmakes it popular for combination
land and cruise vacations.
Jacksonville has now been added as a departure point for some
Celebrity cruises and,if successful,will probably be used by other
lines in the future.However,as with Port Canaveral,its location
means that most itineraries will be geared more toward the eastern
It is not the intention of this book to be a travel guide for Miami and
Fort Lauderdale should you decide to spend some time there.How
ever,the following should be kept in mind if either of these Florida
localities are going to be your embarkation city.Make sure you allow
enough time to get fromthe airport to the cruise ship terminal.This
means that your scheduled arrival time should be a minimumof five
hours before sailing in Miami and four in Fort Lauderdale.From
many places,especially those in the western United States,it is best
to arrive the night before in order to avoid cutting it too close.The
Miami International Airport is eight miles west of the cruise ship ter
minal,which is on Dodge Island.Most of the trip can be done by
highway but,because of possibly heavy traffic,you should allow a
half-hour to make the journey either by taxi or driving there on your
own.The Fort Lauderdale Airport is only a fewmiles fromthe cruise
ships in Port Everglades.That makes it a 10-minute ride.If you are
making your own way to Port Canaveral,figure on leaving the
Orlando area about three to four hours before your sailing time.For
information on San Juan,see page 258.
Other Points of Embarkation
A smaller but now significant and fast-growing number of Carib
bean cruises leave from a variety of ports along the United States’
Gulf Coast.These include Tampa,New Orleans,Mobile and
Galveston,the latter being the port for Houston.Because of their
locations,the itineraries for these cruises will almost inevitably be the
western rather than the southern or eastern Caribbean.Mexican
ports are usually a significant part of these itineraries.Plan to arrive
in these ports a minimum of four to five hours before your cruise
departure time (at least six hours for Houston/Galveston).
As far as the East Coast of the US is concerned,long gone are the
days when NewYork was the hub for Caribbean cruising.Today,the
port of NewYork has a minimal number of departures andthese usu
ally go to Bermuda or the eastern Caribbean only.The same is true
for Boston,Philadelphia and Baltimore,each of which has a limited
number of departures.Charleston and Norfolk are also making a
serious effort to get into the cruise industry’s departure inventory.
Gateway Ports
Finally,if youscanenoughcruise line brochures,youwill occasionally
encounter a few other gateway ports that are located within the
Caribbean itself – Aruba being the best example.And several cruise
lines,following the example started by Carnival,have been experi
mentingwithvarious ports upanddownthe Atlantic coast as well as
the Gulf of Mexico.Thus,fromtime to time it may be possible to find
a limited number of ships embarking at ports other than those men
tioned here.It is certainly worth your while to look for an itinerary
that leaves fromcloser to home.You will have to weigh the conve
nience and cost savings of not having to fly or otherwise travel far
against what will definitely be a more limitedselectionof cruise lines,
ships,destinations and itineraries.
On-Board Sightseeing
here is certainly no denying that standing on deck (or on your
private balcony) and watching the blue Caribbean is a beautiful
sight.But,unless you’re the extra-romantic type,the appeal of this
kind of sightseeing will probably wear off rather quickly.The fact is
that,unlike Alaska and some other places,you won’t be doing a lot
of what can be termed “scenic cruising” during your Caribbean voy-
age.On the positive side,however,most of the islands are quite pic-
turesque,if not beautiful,and your arrival in or departure fromthe
various ports can often provide stunning vistas.Among the best
places tobe ondeck (assumingthere is daylight) are SanJuanandSt.
Thomas.Willemstad,withits colorful harbor,is another scenic arrival
port.Your daily cruise program will often point out those ports
where the viewing is especially good.
he United States office or offices of each country where the
cruise ships ply will be listed,where applicable,along with their
website.The information that these offices provide is often of a gen
eral nature,although if you ask for something specific you might get
exactly what you’re looking for.Much of the printed materials put
out by these agencies are geared toward visitors who will be staying
on the island,rather than visiting for the day from a cruise ship.
Therefore,a possibly better source of information is the local tourist
office in the port itself,the location of which will be shown under
eachspecific port.Tourist offices are goodplaces tostopintofor ver
ification of operating hours,prices and to get a good map.
Seeing the Ports
he rest of the book is devotedtoprovidingyouwithinformation
on each port of call in the southern and western Caribbean.We
then go on to describe the major sights and activities,along with
howtoenjoy them.Withineachcountry,the listingof ports is,where
applicable,further broken down into ports of call and private is
lands.Some of the ports are commonly seen on most Caribbean itin
eraries,while others are more the exception than the rule.There are
some ports which are called upon by very fewcruise ships.These will
be briefly described in a section called Less-Visited Ports.Keep in
mind that there is absolutely no relationship between how fre
quently a port is calleduponandhowgooda place it is tovisit.This is
mostly a matter of individual taste.
Private Islands
These small tropical paradises have become quite the “in” thing in
Caribbean cruising.Once offered by only a couple of cruise lines,
now many have arranged to anchor their ships by a picturesque
island where visitation is largely or entirely restricted to cruise ship
passengers.They are quite pretty,even beautiful,but these are not
islands where you can go sightseeing or do a lot of shopping,even
though most have a market-like collection of shops.They are for
those people who like to soak up the sun and partake in various
sporting activities.So,if you mainly like to sightsee in port rather
than relax or participate in sports,then you are better off selecting a
cruise that doesn’t visit a private island.The majority of these islands
are in the Bahamas.
For the much greater number of “regular” ports (i.e.,not private
islands),information will begin with some statistics and a descrip
tion of the island.(For ports in larger mainland countries this synop
sis will be omitted since the areas visited by cruise passengers
represent only a small part of the country).Then,for each port on
that island or in the country,the description will guide you through
your day-visit.
One-Day Sightseeing Tour
Here’s the meat and potatoes – a full description of what you should
see in a full day tour of the island.Keep in mind the following impor
Seeing the Ports
tant facts when planning your day.First,the number of hours you
have is not equal to the hours of the port call.For instance,a typical
port call as shown in the cruise line brochure might be from 8 am
until 6 pm.But you won’t be able to get off the ship until one hour
after the scheduled arrival.You must also be back on board froma
half-hour to an hour before departure,depending upon the ship.
Thus,in this particular case your maximum available sightseeing
time is from9 amuntil 5 pm.
It is a good rule of thumb to subtract two hours
from the ship itinerary hours to determine how
much time you will have available for shore activi
Second,the tours described here assume you are not planning other
types of activities.If you are like most people,however,and do plan
on spending at least some time at the beach or shopping,then you
will have tosubtract that fromthe available sightseeingtime.And,of
course,most people will want to allocate some time for lunch.Then
again,with all of the eating you’ll likely be doing on board,skipping
lunch or just having a quick snack will be a viable option for many
The sightseeing tours in this book generally assume that you have
about eight hours in total.To help your planning process a sug-
gested amount of time will be given for many attractions or areas as
well as the travel time between attractions on the route where
appropriate.All attractions are open daily unless otherwise speci-
fied.Likewise,the hours of operation will be shown only if those
hours are more restrictive than the typical “nine to five” touring day
that you will usually be given in the ports you visit.Since prices for
attractions (given in US dollars) seemto change rapidly,only a price
range indicator will be shown.If there is no indicator,then the
attraction is free.
Price Levels
$.....................Less than $5
$$$$................More than $20
One-Day Sightseeing Tour
Autonomous constituent of the Kingdomof the Netherlands.
Area:75 square miles.Located only 15 miles fromSouth America,the
island is a maximumof 19 miles long and six miles wide.
National Tourist Office:Aruba TourismAuthority,
(800) 862-7822,
Combine a rugged and often wild landscape,gloriously white
beaches,a year-round dry and sunny climate,and a liberal sprinkling
of Dutch culture and you wind up with Aruba.While some of those
features can be found on many Caribbean islands,much of Aruba is
strikingly different.Once part of the Netherlands Antilles,Aruba
chose to go it alone some years ago.Well,partially alone.Although
largely autonomous,it is still part of the Netherlands.Because of its
aridclimate,Aruba never developedthe large sugar plantationecon-
omy so common throughout the Caribbean.That didn’t prevent the
colonial powers from fighting over it for almost two centuries.The
Dutch took final control in 1816.The British,no doubt,would have
kept fighting for it if they knew gold was going to be discovered
eight years later.The mines became unprofitable in under a century,
but “black gold” – the refining of oil fromSouth America – took over
in economic importance beginning in the 1920s.Tourismcontinues
to play a growing role.
The “Orange City” is one of many bearing this name throughout for
mer Dutch colonies.This has nothingto do with the fruit.Rather,it is
because the royal family of the Netherlands is known as the House of
Orange.A wonderfully pleasant city of 15,000 (a town would better
describe its atmosphere),Oranjestad is located on a fine harbor and
combines elements of both Dutch and Caribbean culture.The most
noticeable attributes,however,are the colorfully painted houses,
which are mostly of traditional Dutch architecture.Oranjestad
makes for an interesting place to wander around and is a good base
fromwhich to explore the island.
See the cost chart for shore activities onpage 117.
All cruise ships tie up at the pier alongside L.G.Smith Blvd.,which is
Oranjestad’s main street and runs parallel to the sea.This is within
minutes of most of the important sights and activities in town.
Tourist Information Office
L.G.Smith Blvd.#172,located about five blocks east of the cruise
ship terminal.Turn right upon reaching L.G.Smith.
Getting Around
Just about everything in Oranjestad of interest to visitors is within
walking distance of the cruise ship terminal.A few places on the
fringes of town might require a taxi if you don’t rent a car.Other
places on the islandcan be reachedby a number of means,including
taxi and car rental.The latter is preferable on Aruba because of a
combination of factors,including light traffic once you get outside
of Oranjestad(traffic oftenvery heavy),driv-
ing on the familiar right-hand side of the road,and inexpensive daily
rental rates.If you plan on visiting interior sites,be aware that roads
are not always paved and a high-clearance four-wheel drive vehicle
can come in handy.
Local car rental agencies are:American Car Rental,(011)
(297) 880 299;Jansen Rent-A-Car, (011) (297) 823 444.
Other local companies,as well as most of the major firms,
have a locationimmediately outside of the cruise shiptermi
nal and you can often just walk in and get a car without a
reservation if you get off the shipsoon after disembarkation
is allowed.
Major pavedroads are numberedfrom1to7and,except for Route 1,
are followed by the letter “A” or “B” to indicate the direction.For
instance,2Aheads towardOranjestad,while 2Bgoes inthe direction
away from town.Route 1 runs along the coast and through
Oranjestad,making it the most important road on Aruba.
Small roads aren’t marked,but locals have a unique
way of telling which direction they’re headed – the
ubiquitous but always wind-bent divi-divi trees un
erringly point toward the southwest.As a point of
reference,Oranjestad (and your ship) is on the
northern part of the west coast.So,if you get lost
just followthe divi-divis to the west coast and then
take the main road back into Oranjestad.
Taxis are expensive but are oftenmore economical thanguidedshore
excursions.Finally,buses connect most parts of the island and run
about three times anhour,except once anhour onSunday.The main
bus station is on L.G.Smith Blvd.,almost opposite the cruise ship
dock,so it is very convenient.L.G.Smith Blvd.becomes the main
roadonthe northwest coast,headingtowardthe mainresort areas.
One-Day Sightseeing Tour
Even though there is quite a bit to see on Aruba,the island is small
enoughsothat youcanhit most of the more important locations ina
single day.The majority of cruise ships calling on Aruba do spend a
lengthy day here.Most visitors will find that the best sights are out
side of Oranjestad.If your port call is long enough,you will probably
have time to walk around the port area as well,which is where the
most interestingthings in town will be found.So,it wouldbe a good
idea tobeginyour visit by rentinga car (or acquiringwhatever means
of transportation you intendto use) andsee the outlyingparts of the
We’ll follow a roughly counter-clockwise touring route that covers
the northern two-thirds of the island.Upon leaving the cruise ship
terminal area and reaching L.G.Smith Blvd.,turn right and follow
this street out of town.It is Route 1.About three miles past the air-
port is a turnoff for Frenchman’s Pass,where Aruba’s gold mining
industry first began.The Balashi Gold Smelter Ruins are of interest,
as is a small bird refuge.Brief stops can be made to visit each.The
road through the pass will end at Route 4.Turn right (onto 4B) and
proceedthroughthe townof Santa Cruz.Onthe left side of the road,
you’ll have a viewof the cone shaped Hooiberg,which,at just over
500 feet,is the second highest point on Aruba.
At the northern end of Santa Cruz,bear right and look for the sign to
Ayowhenyouget tothe townof that name.Turnright at the signfor
the short ride to the Ayo Rock Formations & Indian Drawings.A
landscaped entry path through a rock garden setting,complete with
small animals roaming about,leads to an easily ascended conglom
erationof large rocks.The boulders are composedof a mineral called
diorite andoftenweighmore thanthree thousandtons.They take all
sorts of strange shapes and are often balanced against one another
as if someone had assembled them.A number of the rocks have
paintings on themdone by the original inhabitants of Aruba.Allow
about a half-hour to fully explore this area.
Just past the Ayo Rocks,you’ll see a sign pointing toward your next
destination,which is the famous Natural Bridge.The coast of Aruba
is composedof coral.Here,the poundingsurf has carvedan opening
that is more than 100 feet long and about 25 feet high.It is quite a
sight to watch the sea come rushing in beneath the bridge.You can
walk along the top (there are actually two separate bridges,with the
other one much smaller) or you can take a short flight of steps down
to a small beach near the base of the bridge.
Do not attempt to swim by the natural bridge.
Afterward,followthe unpaved but easily negotiated road along the
coast to the nearby Bushiribana Ruins.This is another of Aruba’s
gold-mining relics.It is not only more interesting than the one at
Balashi,but the scenic setting on the coast makes it a special place.
The ruins blendin with the natural rock surroundings andfroma dis
tance the whole thing looks like a big rock formation.Including the
short ride between the two,you should be able to see the Natural
Bridge and Bushiribana in about 45 minutes.
FromBushiribana,work your way back toward the town of Ayo and
continue on toward Santa Cruz,turning onto Route 4B.Follow4B to
the third round-about at Tanki Flip,where you will take Route 2B.In
the town of Noord followthe signed turnoff for the short ride to the
Alto Vista Chapel.This small 18th-century chapel is attractive,but
the vistas of the sea are equally inviting.It is reached by a winding
road that re-creates the Stations of the Cross.Make your way back in
the opposite direction to Route 2B and continue to the end of this
road at Malmok.Follow signs for the California Lighthouse,which
you’ll reach in under five minutes from Malmok.The California
Lighthouse is a striking structure,and so are the views fromits hill
top location.From there,you can see an extensive area of sand
dunes,as well as the wild surf of the Caribbean Sea.In the opposite
direction there are more distant views of Aruba’s resort corridor.
Closer is the stunningly colorful Malmok Beach.
You can nowbegin making your way back toward Oranjestad along
the coast via J.E.IrausquinBlvd.(Route 1).Just off the mainroadvia a
loop,which returns to Route 1 a couple of miles down the road,is
where the majority of Aruba’s resort hotel properties are located.
This other road is called Irausquin Blvd.,but you probably won’t see
any signs with that name.Just follow the signs fromthe main road
that direct you to the high-rise hotels.If you like visiting exquisite
resorts,then spend a few moments wandering the grounds of the
Aruba Marriott and the Hyatt Regency Aruba.Both have fabulous
landscaping and beautiful beach settings.Also in this area (adjacent
to the WyndhamHotel) is the Butterfly Farm,where more than 30
different species of colorful butterflies from all over the world are
raised.All phases of the life cycle of the butterfly – including caterpil
lar andchrysalis – are coveredduringa guidedtour of this interesting
facility.Guidedvisits last approximately a half-hour.Youcanalsojust
wander around on your own but the admission price is the same and
you won’t get the informative commentary.Open Monday through
Friday with the last admission at 4 pm.$$$.
After concluding your visit to the farm you can continue on down
Route 1 and return to Oranjestad.Since the rest of the highlight tour
is within the city,it is a good idea to return your rental car at this
A good starting point for beginning your Oranjestad tour is on L.G.
Smith Boulevard at the Ports of Call Market Place,which is located
barely 500 feet to the east of the cruise ship dock (turn to the right
from the dock).The market,of course,is primarily for those inter
ested in shopping,but the colorful place,built in Dutch Caribbean
style,is wortha brief look evenif shoppingis of nointerest.The foun-
tains and tropical bird painting in the lobby of the Renaissance Hotel
is also worth a brief stop.
There are several other shopping areas,both on L.G.Smith and on
the parallel Zoutmanstraat,that are also quite attractive.Most
points of interest in Oranjestad are lined up along or near L.G.Smith
Blvd.Continue east on L.G.Smith past the attractive Yacht Basin,
where you’ll likely spot a few vessels belonging to the jet-set.Fort
Zoutman,a block inland fromthe waterfront,was Aruba’s principal
fortification.The WillemIII Tower is the most striking architectural
feature of the fort andhas dominatedthe skyline of Oranjestadsince
its construction in 1798.The fort and tower complex today also
houses the Aruba Historical Museum,which has a diverse collection
of artifacts reflecting island history.If you happen to be in Oranjestad
on a Tuesday evening between 6:30 and 8:30 you’re in for a special
treat.At that time Fort Zoutman is host to the colorful Bon Bini Festi
val,a celebration of Aruban cuisine and entertainment.
Near Fort Zoutman and adjacent to the Yacht Basin is Wilhelmina
Park,built to commemorate the 1955 visit of the Queen and Prince
of the Netherlands toAruba.The park contains a white Italianmarble
sculpture of the Netherlands’ Queen Mother,Wilhelmina.The park
has many tropical blooms (best in early summer) and shady palm
trees.Two other attractions of interest are in the downtown area,
though not along the waterfront.These are the Archaeological and
Numismatic museums.Work your way back along Smith the
tourist office and turn right.In another block you’ll come to the
Irausquinplein,where the Archaeological Museumis located.This
excellent facility documents the human history of Aruba’s native
population going back more than 4,000 years.You can trace the
development of a civilized society,with its beautiful pottery and
other crafts.Skeletal remains froma native burial site are a highlight
of the museum’s collection.Open Monday through Friday until
4 pm,with a closing for lunch between noon and 1 pm.
If you still have some time left,then followEmma Street away from
the waterfront to Kerk Street.Go to the right until you reach the
Zuidstraat and the Numismatic Museum.People who collect coins
will simply delight at the collection of coins fromall over the world.
There are over 30,000 pieces.Even non-collectors should be
impressed,and will learn a lot about world coinage.Some coins go
back almost 2,500 years.There are also many other items such as
shells,once used as a means of exchange in primitive cultures.Allow
about a half-hour.Open Monday through Friday until 4 pm.It closes
between noon and 1 pm.$.
Other Attractions
Atlantis Submarines:See the boxed text on the following
page for details.Schotlandstraat 49; (800) 887-8571 or
locally at (297) (8) 886881.Call for exact schedule,which
varies depending upon season and cruise ship traffic.$$$$.
Allow 1½hours for the entire submarine adventure.
Arikok National Park covers a large chunk of the southern
portion of Aruba and is a wild land of strange rock forma-
tions and ancient Indian rock paintings.The best of the lat
ter canbe foundat the FonteinCaves.Nearby is a anarea of
sand dunes.The Boca Keto Natural Pool is another attrac
tion of Arikok as is Jamanota (spelled Yamanota on some
maps),the highest point on Aruba.Points of interest within
Arikok tend to be rather spread out.This,in addition to the
lack of paved roads within the park (or roads of any type in
some portions),means that you should have a
four-wheel-drive vehicle when visiting Arikok.You can
spend anywhere froman hour to almost a full day exploring
the park.
Casibari Rock Formations & Indian Drawings:These are
as fascinating as those at Ayo.You can,if you are in decent
physical shape,ascenda stairway tothe topof the boulders,
which allows for a panoramic view.This is the main reason
to consider coming here if you have already seen Ayo.Some
of the boulders are said to resemble the shapes of animals.
However,it does take a little bit of imagination to “see”
them.Including the climb to the top,you should allow
about an hour for your visit.
Charlie’s Bar:In the town of San Nicolas on Aruba’s south
ern end,this place has become something of a pilgrimage
site for seekers of fun.
Snorkeling and scuba diving are popular throughout the Caribbean
because of the clear water,the great coral reef formations,and col
orful species of fish.Sunken ships are often another plus.Not every
one knows how to snorkel or scuba.For those who don’t,can’t or
won’t,there is an excellent alternative.The real submarines of the
Atlantis Submarine fleet can carry between 30 and 48 people and
achieve depths of 100 to 150 feet.All vessels are fully pressurized
andCoast Guard-certified.Ashuttle boat takes passengers fromthe
dock to the submarine (which you will be able to see as it surfaces
frombeneaththe sea).Another optioninmost locations is the"deep
dive,"where a few passengers dive as deep as a thousand feet in a
small research-style submarine.
The Atlantis Submarines are a popular excursion from the cruise
ships.Such excursions don’t,however,save you any money over
doing it on your own and in most cases you don’t need to be driven
there as they are usually close to the dock.The excursion groups
tend to ride the submarine in the morning,which means that if you
take an afternoon trip you’re likely to have fewer people on the sub,
so you can move about more freely to get better views.
Atlantis Submarines has 13 locations at great reef sites all over the
world,10 of which are in the Caribbean.The ports in this book that
have them are Aruba,Cozumel,Curaçao,Grand Cayman,and St.
Thomas (also on the nearby island of St.John).Because of local vari
ations inunderseafloraandfaunaas well as geographic formations,
there is some difference in exactly what you will see fromone excur
siontoanother.However,tothe untrainedeye they are all muchthe
same and you should only plan on doing one,especially given the
hefty price of admission.Costs are generally about $85 per person
for adults and half that for children.The deep-dive submarine
option is $450 per person.Also,if you do snorkel or,especially,
scuba dive,it isn’t really necessary to do a submarine trip.All others
should thoroughly enjoy it.
To avoid redundancy,the submarine excursion information will not
be detailed in each port where they operate.More detailed
information is available from Atlantis Submarines at
888-REALSUB or
While Aruba might not be ingrained in the minds of Americans as a
major shopping destination compared to many of the Caribbean
ports that are closer to the United States,the fact is that few ports
have more attractive shopping opportunities than Oranjestad.
Although there is no sales tax,prices aren’t always the best,so it is
wise to exercise some restraint before opening up your wallet.The
greatest concentration of shopping is located very close to the cruise
ship port,along or near the much-mentioned L.G.Smith Blvd.and
along Caya G.F.Betko Croes Street,a fewblocks inland.Many shops
are quite modern in style,but the most popular theme is the bright
colors of Dutch Caribbean architecture.In addition to the previously
mentioned Ports of Call Market Place,17 L.G.Smith Blvd.,with
more than 30 shops and especially good for souvenirs,the water
front area alongL.G.Smithis alsohome tothe Royal Plaza Mall,L.G.
Smith at Westraat,with 40 stores (lots of fancy boutiques);the Sea-
port Village Mall,adjacent to the Sonesta,with over 70 stores;and
the similarly namedSeaport Market Place,L.G.Smith,opposite the
government offices.This is the island’s largest,with over 80 shops
selling everything fromcheap souvenirs to Cartier jewelry and Gucci.
Finally,nearby at Havenstraat is the HollandAruba Mall.The beach-
front hotels to the north of Oranjestad also have quite a few shops
between them,but the prices are higher.
You can shop for just about anything in Aruba,but luxury European
items are the main attraction for visitors.Cameras,fine china and
crystal (as well as authentic Dutch pewter),jewelry,linens and per
fumes top the list of things in demand.Clothing stores are also well
representedandpopular with cruise shippassengers.Little Switzer
land,one of the best-known names in the Caribbean for china,crys
tal,jewelry,perfumes,and Swiss watches,has branches in several
Aruba hotels.However,their most convenient location is downtown
Oranjestadat 14CayaG.F.BetkoCroes.Other well-knownshops fea
turing excellent selections of perfumes and cosmetics include the
Aruba TradingCompany,Caya G.F.Betko Croes 12;Maggy’s,Caya
G.F.Betko Croes 59;and Penha Aruba,Caya G.F.Betko Croes 11.
The Aruba TradingCompany alsohas a goodselectionof clothingfor
men and women.Quality souvenirs made by Aruban craftspeople
canbe foundat the Art &Traditions Storeat CayaG.F.Croes 37-A.
Sports &Recreation
The beach and watersports of all kinds dominate the recreational
scene onAruba but are by nomeans the only diversions.Just northof
Oranjestad on the northwest coast,where most of the major hotels
are located,is where you will find the best swimming beaches.The
fine white sand will entice the most demanding beach-goer.There
are seven miles of uninterrupted sand beginning with Druif Beach
and ending near the island’s northern point at Malmok Beach.One
of the most popular places is about midway between those two
points at PalmBeach.The beaches beyond Malmok are quite scenic,
maybe more so than those by the hotels,but swimming conditions
can be dangerous.They’re fine if you just want to soak up the sun.
The southeastern section of the island has less crowded beaches.
Baby Beachis good for the inexperienced swimmer because its shal
low water (less than five feet) extends way out fromthe shore.
Windsurfing conditions are excellent in many parts of Aruba but
especially between Hadicurari Beach (also known as Fisherman’s
Hut) and Malmok.In the southeast,you can windsurf at Bachelor’s
Beach and Boca Grandi.
Aruba is also a paradise for snorkeling and scuba diving.There are
plenty of beautiful coral reefs and even a fewshipwrecks that can be
explored.Arashi Beach,in the north,is where you’ll find the Arashi
Underwater Park,a coral reef formation,and also the wreck of a
Germanfreighter.SpanishLagoon,locatedsouthof Oranjestadand
nearby Commanders Bay,are also excellent venues.The latter is
especially goodfor scuba diving.There are alsoseveral goodsnorkel-
ing and diving locations on the southeastern shore between Roger’s
and Bachelor’s beaches.
For most other watersports such as kayaking,waterskiing,and
parasailing,it’s usually easiest to arrange it through your ship’s
excursion desk.An alternative is to book with one of the major oper
ators in Oranjestad,such as DePalm Tours (toll-free from the US,
(800) 766-6016;or Red Sail Sports, (800) 255-6425.
If youlike fishing,thenyou’ll like Aruba as well.For biggame fishlike
marlin,tuna and bonito,to mention just a few,your best choices are
either to go on an organized shore excursion that has chartered a
fishing boat,or charter one yourself from the Seaport Marina in
Oranjestad.The marina is very close to the cruise ship dock.
Land-based sports begin with hiking through Aruba’s unusual ter
rain.The best place to do so is at Arikok National Park.Many other
sports are restricted to hotel guests,but that is not the case with
golf,tennis,and horseback riding.Golfers will find a variety of
courses to choose from.The two best are the Aruba Golf Club,a
nine-hole course in the southern part of the island near San Nicolas,
and the Tierra Del Sol.The latter is a Robert Trent Jones II 18-hole
course designedtothe requirements of the ruggednatural terrainon
the island’s northern tip.The terrain in much of the island is
well-suitedtohorseback ridinganda number of ranches canarrange
horseback tours.Check at the visitor information center for what’s
available.The Aruba Racquet Club is one of the fewtennis facilities
open to visitors who aren’t staying at a hotel.It’s in the PalmBeach
area.The other major land “sport” is gambling.Almost all of the
major hotels have casinos,which will welcome you if you can’t wait
until your ship is at sea and the onboard casino opens.
The Bahamas
Independent member of the British Commonwealth.
Area:3,900 square miles.The Bahamian chain extends in an arc for
more than 750 miles froma point only 50 miles off the
southeastern coast of Florida.
National Tourist Office:Bahamas Tourist Office,
(888) 627-7281,Ext.213,
The Bahamas chain consists of more than 2,000 cays (or islets) and
about 700 islands.Of these,only 22 have inhabitants.Many of the
smallest cays would be hard-pressed to house more than a single
family.Onthe other hand,Andros,whichis the largest island,covers
more than a third of the total land area of the entire chain.But it has
fewer than 10,000 residents.What the Bahamas has in great abun-
dance are beautiful white sandy beaches,tropical trees and warm
sunshine.This,plus its proximity to the United States,has made it
one of the premier resort destinations in the world.The islands are
mostly flat,with elevations rarely more than a few hundred feet.
The economy has diversified over the years and,although banking
and petroleumrefining are important,tourismis clearly the largest
Christopher Columbus first discovered the NewWorld in 1492 upon
sighting what was to be called San Salvador island.However,it was
not until the British established settlements on NewProvidence and
Eleuthera islands in the mid-17th century that the Spanish became
interested.They repeatedly attacked the British but never did man
age to get control.Pirates were another problem and many made
their base on various islands of the Bahamas chain.The British,how
ever,maintainedcontrol except for a short time duringthe American
Revolution when both the Americans and Spaniards briefly held it.
The Bahamas became an independent nation in 1973,10 years after
having been granted a large degree of internal autonomy.
Freeport (Port Lucaya)
Freeport is located on 530-square-mile Grand Bahama island,the
fourth largest in the Bahamas chain.Together with nearby Lucaya
(about 10 miles east of Freeport),the Freeport area has more than
50,000 residents and thus comprises the second-largest population
concentration in the Bahamas after Nassau.Because Freeport is only
about 50 miles away fromFlorida it was one of the first areas to be
developed as a tourism destination.The emphasis then and now
remains on lavish resort hotels with casinos and entertainment,as
well as a plethora of outdoor recreational opportunities.Although
still highly popular,relatively fewcruise ships call on Freeport,espe
cially when compared to the number that visit Nassau.
All ships tie upat the piers of the LucayanHarbour Cruise Facility (for-
merly known as Freeport Harbour),which is not in Lucaya,but sev-
eral miles west of Freeport.Recent renovations have improved the
facilities at the dock.Taxis are available for getting into either
Freeport or Lucaya.
Tourist Information Office
An excellent tourist office is located at the International Bazaar,East
Sunrise Highway and East Mall Drive,in the center of town.
Getting Around
Within Freeport itself,most points of interest,as well as fine shop
ping,are within easy walking distance of the pier.Mall Drive is
Freeport’s primary street leading fromthe waterfront to the Interna
tional Bazaar area,while Sunrise Highway provides the major
east-to-west thoroughfare.There is also a local bus service you can
take to various places on other parts of Grand Bahama Island.How
ever,it is far more convenient to take a taxi or rent a car.Renting a
bicycle is also a possibility.
Local car rental agency:Cartwright’s Rent-A-Car, (242)
The Bahamas
Freeport (Port Lucaya)
One-Day Sightseeing Tour
Most of the attractions of interest are located outside of Freeport
itself.Within Freeport the two places that drawthe greatest number
of visitors are the Straw Market and the adjacent International
Bazaar.The shopping aspects of these places will be detailed below
but even if you don’t intend to buy a single thing (perish the
thought!),these are two worthwhile places to visit.The former is
much smaller and is pretty to look at,although it is more for the seri
ous shopper seeking authentic Bahamian goods.On the other hand,
the International Bazaar is part shopping center and part theme
park.It covers more than 10 acres and incorporates an incredible
variety of architectural styles,with each area of the bazaar designed
toreflect a different country.The more thantwodozennations “rep
resented” run the gamut from Europe to the Far East.One of the
more popular sections resembles Tokyo’s Ginza,while many cafés
canbe foundinthe Paris section.It’s colorful andlots of fun.If you’re
not heavily into shopping,you can still expect to spend about an
hour just exploring.Open daily except Sunday.Hours vary,but most
shops are open by 10 am.
The best of Grand Bahama’s beautiful gardens and parks are outside
of Freeport,mostly in or near Lucaya.The first is on Settlers Way,
about three miles east of the International Bazaar between Freeport
and Lucaya.This is the Rand Nature Centre,a Bahamian national
park covering about 100 acres of natural pineland.The park is
threaded with numerous trails and makes a great place for bird
watching.One pond is home to many flamingos,which happens to
be the national birdof the Bahamas.There are alsohistorical exhibits
on things as diverse as native medicine and Lucayan Indian culture.
Not only is it a beautiful place,but it is highly interesting and educa
tional.You should allowat least 90 minutes to visit the Centre,more
if you plan on studying the birds and flora.Guided walks are avail
able at various times.Consult the postedschedule at the time of your
visit.Open daily except Sunday,but it closes early on Saturdays
(1 pm).$$.If you plan on visiting the Lucayan National Park
(described on the next page),get tickets for it at the Rand Nature
Only about 15 minutes away is another lovely spot – the Garden of
the Groves inLucaya town,at the intersectionof Midshipmans Road
andMagellanDrive.Situatedalongthe shore of Port Lucaya,the gar
den isn’t named for “groves” of trees but rather for Wallace and
Georgette Groves,who established this botanical paradise.It now
covers more than 11 acres.You can stroll along walkways and
bridges that meander through thousands of varieties of shrubs and
trees.The best view is from a small chapel on a hillside,where you
The Bahamas
can take in all of the tranquil scene.The gardens have also become a
place where birds like to visit and the well-informed human is likely
to spot a variety of species.Allow about an hour for your visit.The
gardens close at noon on Saturday,at 4 pm on other days.$$.
Lucayan National Park is approximately 25 miles east of Lucaya via
the Grand Bahama Highway,the island’s main road.The park covers
a surprising variety of terrains given its relatively small size of only 40
acres.There is a small pine forest,sand dunes,and hammocks,
among other features.The main attraction of the park is two large
caves that have longbeen known to the island’s inhabitants.Arawak
Indians used themas a source of fresh water long before the arrival
of Europeans.There is a good trail that covers most of the park’s fea
tures and wooden stairways lead down into parts of the caves.
Althoughswimmingis allowedinmany areas of the park,it is forbid
den to swim within the caves themselves.Give yourself about 2½
hours to visit Lucayan National Park,including the time to get there
and back fromLucaya.The park closes at 4 pm.$.
Other Attractions
Hydroflora Garden:This is another of the many wonderful
gardens located throughout the island.If you haven’t had
your fill with the aforementioned places or if you have time
for more,this garden may be of interest to you.It has more
than 150 examples of native plant species and interesting
exhibits on their medicinal use as practiced by the native
population.East Beach on Sunrise Highway,Lucaya.Open
daily except Sunday.$$.
There are several casinos on Grand Bahama where you can
try your luck.These are concentrated in the resort hotels at
Lucaya.You might also be interested in touring the public
areas and grounds of some of the larger hotels such as Our
Lucaya Beach Resort and the Resort at Bahamia.
The International Bazaar is the place to shop when in Freeport.Not
only is it the largest place to shop on Grand Bahama Island in terms
of the number of stores and the variety of goods available,it is also
the most fun because of the atmosphere.Prices here can range from
bargains to highly overpriced.Don’t hesitate to haggle and walk
away if the price seems too high to you.If you are looking for island
crafts,you will find them scattered throughout the International
Bazaar,but you would be better off heading for the adjacent Straw
Freeport (Port Lucaya)
Market.Like its more famous namesake in Nassau,this is also a col
orful and fun place to look for that special itemwith a distinct Carib
bean flair.Do check for the quality of the goods before purchasing.
Although most of the items are well-made there is a smattering of
junk as well.Elsewhere in Freeport and around the island,the pick
ings are much slimmer.The next best place is at Port Lucaya where
more than 70 shops can be found spread out in an attractive Baha
mian village setting.The nature of the stores and the prices is more
upscale here.High-quality clothing and jewelry are among the items
that people migrate to Port Lucaya for.
Sports &Recreation
All of the usual water sports can be found in Freeport or,if not there,
in neighboring Lucaya or around the island.The best beaches are
concentrated near the Lucaya hotels.Among the good swimming
choices are Barbary,Churchill and Taino beaches.
Although the diving and snorkeling opportunities on Grand Bahama
aren’t the Caribbean’s best,most divers won’t be disappointed with
what the island has to offer.It is best to head for Peterson Cay
National Park (you have to get there by boat),which undoubtedly
offers the finest undersea sights in the area.
Sailing,parasailing,windsurfingandother forms of boatingare pop-
ular and abundant.For the less adventurous,numerous glass bot-
tom boats and other vessels have sailing trips around the island.
There are plenty of fishing charters and deep-sea fishing is popular
year-round.For each of the preceding activities,your cruise ship’s
excursion office will likely be able to make the arrangements.One
interestingwater activity that youcanget toeasily onyour ownis the
Dolphin Experience,where you get to swimwith these playful and
intelligent creatures.The experience takes about 2½hours andreser
vations are required. (800) 922-DIVE.Take their ferry from Port
Most of the land-based sports are concentrated at the resort hotels
and are almost universally restricted to guests,although arrange
ments are sometimes made to accommodate cruise ship passengers
on excursion.There are,however,several golf courses that admit the
general public,includingthe Fortune Hills Golf &Country Club.It is
beautifully situated on the heights above Freeport.Over in Lucaya,
the island’s oldest course,Lucaya Golf Course,is also an excellent
choice for day-trippers.Two-hour horseback rides are available by
reservation through Pinetree Stables.They are located about mid
The Bahamas
way between downtown Freeport and Port Lucaya on Beachway
Drive North.(242) 373-3600.
The city of Nassau,located on the island of New Providence,is the
capital of the Bahamas.The island is only about 21 miles long and
seven miles across,but fully two-thirds of the nation’s population
resides in Nassau.Long a bustling and thriving community (from
infamous pirates to colonial powers),the Nassau of today has much
tosee anddo,andit graciously welcomes millions of visitors,asignif
icant chunk of whomcome by cruise ship.The city is on the island’s
north shore,but the adjoining Paradise Island is essentially a part of
Nassau for both residents and visitors alike.
Cruise ships dock at Prince George Wharf,which juts out fromthe
heart of Nassau.It is one of the biggest ports in the Caribbean and
can easily accommodate a half-dozen of the largest cruise ships at
one time.That is a common situation,and seeing themlined up next
to one another is,in itself,quite a sight.Once you walk off the ship
and reach the land end of the wharf,you’ll be on Woodes Rogers
Walk.This street only runs four blocks and,at each intersection,it is
only one block inlandtoBay Street,Nassau’s principal thoroughfare.
Tourist Information Office
Inthe Market Plaza onBay Street,near RawsonSquare andthe cruise
ship port.
Getting Around
Most of the major attractions of Nassau,as well as its shopping
opportunities,are a short to moderate walk from Prince George
Wharf.An interesting way of seeing Nassau is by horse-drawn car
riage.These are available near the cruise ship dock.Paradise Island is
about 1½ miles distant and makes a nice walk for the more ambi
tious.Some walkers might be a little skittish about crossing the high
bridge on foot.There is,however,a broad sidewalk on the bridge.
Should you decide not to walk,you can take a taxi or ride the ferry.A
better idea is to go by one method and return by another.This way
you get to see more.There aren’t that many popular attractions for
cruise ship passengers on other parts of New Providence Island.
Should you choose to explore the rest of this 21-mile long island on
your own,thenyouwill either have togoby taxi or rent a car,bothof
which are easily obtainable.
Local car rental agency:A1Rent-A-Car,(242) 377-5520.
One-Day Sightseeing Tour
Your visit to Nassau can be divided into two geographic areas.These
are the previously mentioned city of Nassau itself and Paradise
Island.The latter,lying just north of downtown Nassau and reach
able by bridge or ferry,is less than four miles long and about a
half-mile wide at its greatest extent.The best approach is to allow
about a third of your sightseeing time for the city proper and the
remainder for the many attractions of Paradise Island.
Nassau proper has quite a fewplaces of interest to visit,even though
it is best known for its fabulous shopping (see page 141).A walking
tour of downtown Nassau can begin as soon as you leave the pier.
Bay Street is home to much of Nassau’s fine shopping.The district is
bustlingandmakes for aninterestingwalk,evenif youaren’t looking
to buy anything.
Several points of interest are either along Bay Street or within a cou-
ple of blocks.Parliament Square is across Bay Street just beyondthe
cruise ship dock.Flanking the Parliament House itself are a library
and history museum.Neither of these is of great interest,so you
don’t have to go in unless you find yourself with some extra time on
your hands at the end of the afternoon.The square itself has pretty
floral arrangements and a cenotaph in memory of British soldiers
killed in the two world wars.Heading west along Bay Street (turn
right fromthe cruise dock or left if you were in Parliament Square),it
is only a fewblock to the StrawMarket,definitely the most famous
of its type inthe Caribbean.The original market burneddowninearly
September,2001 and most of the 500 vendors had to set up tempo
rary shop in a number of locations.However,the rebuilt market
(whichshouldbe fully complete by the time youreadthis) will be big
ger and better than ever.
Pirates of Nassau isn’t a high-tech ride like in Disney World.Rather,
it is a thoughtful museum devoted to this aspect of Caribbean his
tory.There’s a full-scale replica of a pirate vessel andsome other nifty
exhibits,but perhaps what is most interesting about a visit here are
the little informational tidbits (usually in question-and-answer form)
that separate pirate fact frompirate fiction.You will be surprised by
the many myths that will be shattered.Your visit should take no
more than a half-hour.Corner of George and Marlborough Streets,
one block off of Bay.Open daily except Sunday.$$$.
The Bahamas
Next,walk east one block on Marlborough to Market and turn to the
right.Take the first left andfollowShirley Street until youreachEliza
beth Avenue,no more than a 10-minute walk.Turn right on Eliza
beth and you’ll see the Queen’s Staircase.There are 65 steps,one
for each year of Queen Victoria’s rule.The stairs were hand-cut by
slave labor out of the limestone rock.At the top of the steps are the
ruins of Fort Fincastle.More important than the fort is the great
view of Nassau and Paradise Island spread out before you.
For an even better viewand one that encompasses all of NewProvi
dence Island,take the elevator uptothe topof the Water Tower.The
small,rickety old elevator ride is fun if you’re not claustrophobic.
There will inevitably be a local resident who goes up with you to the
126-foot-high tower’s observation deck and relates a bit of island
history.Give hima small tip for his time.$ for elevator.
East Street will return you to Bay Street,where you can make your
way to Paradise Island by the options previously described under
Getting Around.Paradise Island originally had the unappetizing
name of Hog Island.It was changed when Huntington Hartford (heir
to the A&P supermarket chain) decided that it would make a won-
derful place for a resort.Was he ever prophetic!Inadditiontohaving
anexcellent beach,the greatest number of Nassau’s resort hotels are
located here.Several of themare quite nice but it is the Atlantis Par-
adise Resort that qualifies as Nassau’s number one visitor attrac-
tion.Ashort hop fromthe Paradise Island side of the bridge,Atlantis
is a dreamworld that children will love and adults can equally adore,
even if it is for different reasons.Kids like the world of fantasy,while
the grown-ups can appreciate beautiful architecture,whimsical
imagination and a Disney-like attention to detail.Atlantis is among
the biggest,most beautiful and fun places to see of any resort hotel
in the world.Even non-guests could easily spend a whole day here.
Count on a minimum of 90 minutes,and up to a maximum of 2½
hours if you want to see some of the other sights in Nassau.To really
see Atlantis you must purchase tickets for the so-called Discovery
Tour.This will take you on a guided tour of Atlantis’ highlight – The
Dig.However,once having purchased your wristband,you can see
the Dig on your own.This will take less than the hour for the guided
tour and give you more time to explore the rest of what Atlantis has
to offer.Wearing the wristband will give you access to the grounds
but not,of course,any recreational facilities such as pools,water
slides andsoforth.Be sure toget a property map,whichwill be most
useful in negotiating the many ins and outs of the place.
The Dig is a highly imaginative and beautiful journey through an
archaeological expedition to the mythical lost continent of Atlantis.
This large area has many almost unbelievable architectural features,
The Bahamas
including the “Navigation” and “Submarine” rooms fromwhich the
ancient Atlantans explored the undersea world (or so the legend
goes).But,in reality,this is more than a high-tech sci-fi exhibit.The
Dig is actually an immense aquarium,part of a marine habitat that
has over 200 different species of marine life totalling more than
50,000 creatures large and small.There’s even an acrylic tunnel that
takes you through the amazing Predator Lagoon.Some of the spe
cies you will see are quite unusual and their aquarium homes are
filled with the “ruins” of the Atlantan civilization.
Once youleave the Digthere is still muchmore tosee.The grounds of
Atlantis consist of many different lagoons connected by a series of
bridges and nicely landscaped winding walkways.Various pavilions
with unusual architecture and decoration (this is,after all,Atlantis)
dot the grounds.One of the more impressive sights you will come
across is the MayanTemple.As youget closer,youwill come toreal
ize that the “temple” is a gigantic water slide.It’s fun to watch peo
ple (mostly older children) come down the slide in what seems to be
almost a straight drop.Looks scary to me!
Atlantis is visible from many parts of Nassau.But it is from the
grounds that you can get a good close-up look at the beautiful and
fanciful architectural design of the hotel’s towers.Again,an
out-of-this world look is the key ingredient,with its Atlantan sculp-
tures.Inside is also a sight to behold.Various lobby areas contain
wonderful statues,great rotunda-like halls,and plenty of marble
everywhere.The casino is dominated by the Temple of the Sun and
the Temple of the Moon.Maybe you’re supposed to pray to the
Atlantan gods for luck at the tables or slot machines!
Oh yes,as you would expect froma resort like this,
there are plenty of places to eat and shop but,be
warned,all are at prices that could bust your bud
get.But what the heck,you’re on vacation!
Two other points of interest are on Paradise Island,about 3/4-mile
east fromthe Atlantis via Paradise Island Drive.Versailles Gardens
covers more than 35 acres to the north and south of Paradise Island
Drive and are unlike other gardens in the Caribbean.These are gar
dens patterned after the great estates of Europe.With their many
tiered levels,fountains and classic statues (fromHercules to Roose
velt),it is a lovely sight.Adjacent to the gardens is an authentic
French cloister dating from the 14th century.It was brought here
piece by piece and reassembled under the direction of Huntington
Hartford.The cloister is a popular spot for weddings.Both of these
attractions are onthe grounds of the OceanClubresort complex,but
non-hotel guests are welcome to visit (andwithout beingchargedas
they are at Atlantis).Allow about 45 minutes for a visit.
At this point,time constraints will be almost certainly require that
you return to your ship.
When it comes to sightseeing,there is absolutely no need to take a
guidedshore excursionof either the city of Nassauor Paradise Island.
The only excursions that youshouldconsider takingare those related
torecreational activities.where the pre-arrangeddetails make things
much more convenient.
See the cost chart for shore activities onpage 117.
Other Attractions
Ardastra Gardens,Zoo & Conservation Centre:The pri
mary features of this complex are the thousands of tropical
plants.A group of flamingos adorns the property.What is
most unusual about these flamingos is the fact that they
“perform” a little show.Shows are held at 11 am,2 pmand
4 pm.You can also take close-up pictures of thembecause,
unlike flamingos in most places,they have been taught not
to be afraid of people.The zoo portion has over 300 ani-
mals.Although the collection is sizable,it isn’t one of the
great zoos of the world in manner of presentation.How-
ever,it makes for a good place to spend some time if you
have childrenwho,nodoubt,will be clamoringtosee some-
thing they can enjoy.Avisit should take about an hour,pos
sibly longer if you have children.Chippingham Road,near
Fort Charlotte.$$$.
Another garden option is the larger Botanical Gardens,
which cover about 18 acres.The grounds are beautifully
landscaped.This is probably visually more pleasing than the
preceding place,but it doesn’t have the diversity of attrac
tions (although there is a small replica of an Arawak Indian
village).On the other hand,adults might find this more sat
isfying.It certainly is a lot less costly.Open daily except
Bahamas Historical Society Museum:This isn’t one of the
great museums of the world,but,if you have a “thing” for
history,you might want to take a brief look at this facility,
which is conveniently situated on your way to or from the
Queen’s Staircase.Located at Elizabeth Avenue and Shirley
Street.Hours vary.$.
The Bahamas
Fort Charlotte:This is one of three forts that guarded the
harbor (the other,besides Fort Fincastle on the hill,is Fort
Montagu at the east end of East Bay Street,which can also
be visited).The fort was completed in 1789.It must have
scared off the opposition because a shot was never fired
from it.Visitors can tour the dungeons and nearby guard
house as well as portions of the extensive fortifications.Al
low30-45 minutes.Located one mile west of the cruise ship
terminal via Bay Street to Bethel Way.$.
Two slightly offshore points of interest are the Sea Gardens
(take the glass bottom boat from the King George Wharf)
and the Coral Island Underwater Observatory & Marine
Park locatedonCoral Islandnear the westerntipof Paradise
Island and off of Bay Street in Nassau Harbour.Both have
viewing areas beneath the water that allow you to see the
coral reef and a large variety of brightly colored fish and
other marine species.Each $$$.
Horse-drawn carriage tours of Nassau are an easy and
pleasant way to tour the city if you don’t have a lot of time.
They’re especially goodfor newlyweds andhopeless roman-
tics!Carriages depart from outside the cruise ship pier.
Nassau is another of the Caribbean’s shopping meccas,given the
great variety of goods andwhat are consideredtobe amongthe best
prices available.The duty-free status is a big plus.It is said (mainly by
Nassau’s promoters,I surmise) that prices are about 40%less than in
the United States.This may be true if you shop carefully.Although
the prices can often be a bargain,that isn’t always the case.Look
aroundandcompare.If youare inthe market for somethingspecific,
find out what it would cost at home so that you can make an
informed choice.There really isn’t much that you can’t buy in
Nassau,but it is especially known for imported European products.
Local handicrafts are also popular.Among the local items in the
non-handicraft category that attract attention are Bahamian
liqueurs,such as Nassau Royale,and several varieties of rum.
Bay Street is the main shopping drag and is as convenient as you can
get for cruise ship passengers.Even heavy packages won’t be a bur
den because it’s only a fewblocks back to the dock.The shops along
Bay Street range frombargainhunters’ paradise tothe most chic and
upscale jewelry stores and boutiques.However,the single favorite
destination is at the intersection of Bay and Market Streets,where
you’ll find the sprawling Straw Market.Here,more than 500 ven
dors hawk their wares.You’ll find not only straw goods but items
made from sea shells,wood and even coconuts.Be aware that
importation into the United States of tortoiseshell products is pro
hibited by law.Bargaining over prices is a way of life at the Straw
Market,so never accept the price that you’re initially told even if it
seems good to you.
Sports &Recreation
Swimming and snorkeling in the various coves along the shore of
NewProvidence Island is popular.Paradise Island has the best beach
if you just want to swimor lie on the sand.Cable Beach,outside of
Nassau and home to a fairly large number of resort properties,is
another good place for beach enthusiasts.Scuba lovers will find that
the 142-mile-long offshore reef is an excellent place to dive.Opera
tors for all sorts of fishing and boating excursions (including the
more adventurous parasailing and wind surfing varieties) can be
found in the marina at Nassau’s harbor area.
Nassau has many golf courses that are open to the general public,so
you may not have to rely on your ship’s organized excursions for this
activity.A popular and convenient option for cruise ship passengers
is the Cable BeachGolf Course.Somewhat closer is the OceanClub
Golf Course (until recently named the Paradise Island Golf
Course),which is only a fewminutes fromthe cruise terminal.How-
ever,while non-hotel guests used to have good access to the PIGC,
reports are that day-visitors might well find themselves closed out.
Private Islands
Castaway Cay
Part of the Bahamas (specifically,the Abacos),Castaway Cay is the
private domain of the Disney Cruise Line.You can walk directly off
the ship onto the island,which features two beaches (one for fami
lies and the other reserved for adults only),and a wide variety of
water sports.The island has its own lagoon for snorkeling.Disney
characters join you on shore.There’s a barbecue lunch and plenty of
activities for children of all ages.Every Disney itinerary includes a day
at Castaway Cay.
Coco Cay
Used by Royal Caribbean International,Coco Cay is just one of many
Bahama islands that have become the privileged playgrounds of the
Private Islands
cruise lines.Again,the biggest features are the beautiful beach and
the lush tropical foliage.A full range of sporting activities,mostly
water-based,and a meal on shore are part of the day spent on Coco
Cay.Only a limited number of itineraries include a stop here.
Great Stirrup Cay
One of the Berry Islands,Great Stirrup is now the private island for
Norwegian Cruise Line.A full day is spent here on all NCL Bahamas
sailings.It’s alovely setting,inashelteredcove surroundedby coral.
Half-Moon Cay
HollandAmerica uses this little islandthat is more correctly identified
as Little San Salvador.This is truly an idyllic setting for those who
wish to relax on the beach or take part in water sports.The island is
shaped like the half-moon of its name and presents a beautiful pic-
ture toHollandAmerica passengers.Although,like most of the other
private islands,Half-Moon Cay has some shopping and a range of
other activities,development has deliberately been kept to a mini-
mum.In promoting a degree of eco-tourism,HAL invites guests to
participate in a number of “Seagoing Environmental Awareness”
programs.The majority of Holland America itineraries include Half
Moon Cay,but some western and southern trips do not call here.
Princess Cays
Situated in the Eleuthera group of the Bahamas,these cays are the
stomping ground for Princess Cruises – which should not come as
any surprise given their name!All Princess itineraries from Florida
stop here,but those that embark from San Juan do not.There is,
once again,a full range of activities fromsnorkeling to banana boats
and from a barbecue to kayaking.There is also a supervised chil
dren’s activity programfor when the grown-ups decide to spend the
afternoon snoozing in a hammock under a bright sun.
Private Islands
Gulf of Honduras
Ambergris Caye
Corozal Town
Punta Gorda
Caye Caulker
Caye Chapel
San Pedro
Orange Walk Town
To Francsico
Crooked Tree
San Antonio
San Pedro
Nim Li Punit
Monkey River
Seine Bight Village
Sittee River
To Flores
& Tikal
Northern Lagoon
Southern Lagoon
Melchor de
San Ignacio
Caves Branch
Blue Creek
Gales Point
Burrell Boom
Altun Ha
Chan Chich
La Milpa
San Felipe
Santa Rita
Benque Viejo
Blue Hole
Victoria Peak
(3,680 feet)
Independent parliamentary nation;member of the
British Commonwealth.
Area:8,800 square miles.Maximumdimensions are 165 miles from
north to south and 60 miles fromeast to west.
National Tourist Office:Belize Tourist Board;
(800) 624-0686
or (212) 563-6011,
Known as British Honduras until its independence in 1981,Belize
was initially not recognized by neighboring Guatemala,who had
land claims against the British colony.In recent years,relations
between the two have improved considerably.Occupying the south
ern portion of the Yucatán Peninsula,Belize has two distinct geo
graphical areas.The northis low-lyingandmarshy,while the southis
home to the Maya Mountains.The country’s highest point is nearly
3,700 feet above sea level.While agriculture is the main industry,
tourism has become more important in recent years.The land of
Belize was once part of Mayan territory.Aseries of coral barrier reefs
run nearly the entire length of its Caribbean coast.It is these two
aspects of Belize that account for its growingpopularity withvisitors.
Belize City
This was the capital until 1970.After a hurricane in 1961 that
severely damaged Belize City,it was decided to move the capital
farther inland where it would be more protected.(The capital “city”
of Belmopan is still little more than a small town.) Belize City has a
population of about 50,000 and remains the country’s biggest city,
its commercial hub and major port.It is situated right on the Belize
River,where it empties into the blue Caribbean.Although Belize City
has never had that much to offer the visitor,it is a base for exploring
other sights.Inaddition,economic redevelopment has made the city
much more attractive than it had been in the past.
Although Belize City has a large harbor,the port is not deep enough
to accommodate cruise ships.Therefore,all passengers will be trans
ferred fromtheir ship by tender to the Belize Marine Terminal.It’s on
Front Street in the center of town at the intersection of Queen Street
and the Swing Bridge.
Belize City
Tourist Information Office
In the Central Bank Building on Gabourel Lane,downtown,about a
quarter-mile east of the Marine Terminal via Queen Street.
Getting Around
The limited number of sights in town can be easily explored on foot.
There is no public transportation system,so you will have to opt for a
taxi if you tire of walking.For traveling outside of the city,it is best to
take an organized excursion.Independent-minded travelers can rent
cars but should be aware that the road network in the hinterlands,
where the major Mayan ruins are located,is poor and the accident
Belize City
1.Paslow Building & Post Office
2.Marine Terminal & Marine Museum/
Coastal Zone Museum
3.Image Factory
4.Tourist Village
5.Audubon Society
6.Fort George Lighthouse &
Barron Bliss Tomb
7.Radisson Fort George
8.National Handicrafts Center &
Memorial Park
9.National Museum/Tourist Office
10.Charles Lindbergh Park
11.Police Station
12.Covered market
13.Supreme Court
14.Belize Telephone Limited (BTL)
15.Bliss Institute/National Library
16.St.John’s Cathedral
17.House of Culture
18.Santino’s Bike Shop
19.Bus Station
20.Flag Circle
rate is high.Roads are always one lane in each direction,generally
unpaved and in a bad state of repair.They may be totally impassable
during or after bad weather.The only road that even begins to
approach North American standards is the main coastal road that
extends north and south of Belize City.In addition,car rental rates
are quite high.
Local car rental agency:Safari Rentals,(011) (501) (023)
One-Day Sightseeing Tour
Most people will want tospendthe bulk of their time outside the city
where the best sights are.However,this itinerary allows about two
hours for a downtown walking tour,which begins as soon as you
arrive at the dock,for right inside the Marine Terminal is the small
Maritime Museum.
Belize City is divided into two sections by Belize Harbor and Haulover
Creek.Outside the terminal area,at the entrance to the Creek is the
Swing Bridge,which is manually opened twice a day to let boats
pass through.On the northeast side of the bridge,you should pro-
ceed up Queen Street,which is one of the more interesting thor-
oughfares inthe city because of the many old,large andoftenornate
wooden buildings.
A walk through the Fort George District will bring you around the
tip of land at Marine Parade and Fort Street.Here you will find the
Fort George Lighthouse and the Baron Bliss Tomb.Mr.Bliss left a
trust fund for improvement projects upon his death,although he
never lived in Belize.He did visit frequently on his yacht on fishing
Using Fort Street and Front Street to get back to the Swing Bridge,
cross over to the other side and you’ll be in the heart of the commer
cial district.A loop along the street known as Southern Foreshore,
Rectory Lane andleft onRegent Street as far as Albert Park,andthen
back north on Regent Street back to the bridge,will complete your
routing.Among the sights are the Bliss Institute,Southern Fore
shore at Bishop Street,a museumof Belizian art and culture;and the
House of Culture,Regent Street just north of the Albert Park.The
latter used to be known as Government House and contains house
hold items and furnishings from the British era.Both museums are
open Monday to Friday only.$ each.Regent Street is a bustling and
interesting combination of shops and markets.
See the cost chart for shore activities onpage 117.
Some of the more popular and fascinating sights of the surrounding
region are located to the north of Belize City.Routings will be men
tioned for the convenience of those who choose to venture out on
their own.
Leave the city via Haulover Road,whichbegins at the BelcanJunction
rotary just north of downtown via Central American Boulevard.This
leads into the Northern Highway,the major access road to all attrac
tions north of Belize City.About 19 miles fromthe city,just north of
SandHill,take the right fork intothe oldhighway throughsix miles of
jungle and small towns to the site of Altun Ha.This is an important
Mayan archaeological site that dates fromthe sixth century BC and
was occupied until the 10th century.There’s a good visitor center;
fromthere you can followthe trail past the major temples,grouped
into two large plazas.The most important structure in the first
grouping is the Temple of the Green Tomb,because of the wealth of
Mayan art and artifacts that were discovered here.However,it is in
the secondgroupwhere the most striking andsplendidarchitectural
treasures await the visitor.Here,the Temple of the Masonry Altars is
a fitting centerpiece to the collection of temples that surround the
plaza.The site is not overly large and you should be able to explore it
thoroughly in less than two hours.$.It takes about 1¼hours to get
here fromBelize City.
Onthe way back tothe city,get off the NorthernHighway at the Bur-
rell Boomturnoff and proceed west for about 12 miles on a dirt road
tothe Community BaboonSanctuary.Youwon’t findany baboons
at the sanctuary because there are no baboons in Belize.However,
the black howler monkey is the primary inhabitant andthe sanctuary
has protectedthemfromthe encroachment of civilization.It is runas
a cooperative effort by neighboring landowners who saw the need
for preservation.There are trails through portions of the sanctuary
and if you remain relatively quiet there’s an excellent chance that
you’ll see the howler monkeys in the trees.Also included in the price
of admission is a museum about the monkeys and more than 200
other species of animals that inhabit the sanctuary,a nature trail and
a tour of a small village.The entire sanctuary covers some 20 square
miles on either side of the Belize River.You should plan on spending
at least 90 minutes at the Sanctuary.$$.
Other Attractions
Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary:Easier to get to than the
Baboon Sanctuary because of the better quality of the
NorthernHighway,the CrookedTree Wildlife Sanctuary has,
inadditiontosome of the howler monkeys,numerous other
forms of wildlife,especially birds.Boat tours through the
area’s waterways are available at additional cost ($$$$).Al
low about two hours for your visit,exclusive of boat tours.
$$.Located 33 miles north of Belize City via the Northern
Highway and then just west.
Via the Western Highway:Leaving Belize City via Cemetery
Roadwill bringyoutothe WesternHighway.About 28miles
fromthe city is the excellent Belize Zoo.Begun in 1983,this
zoo is primarily to teach Belizians about the importance of
preserving the nation’s wildlife.Visitors will enjoy walking
the paths of this 30-acre facility where more than 120 spe
cies of native animals will be encountered.Among these are
crocodiles,jaguars,ocelots and black howler monkeys,in
addition to numerous birds.Open daily except on major
On the opposite side of the highway from the zoo is the
Tropical Education Center.Run by the same good folks as
the zoo,the center has exhibits and educational programs
about the environment.A trail winds through the 84-acre
facility and allows close-up views of the wildlife.$.Half-day
canoe rentals on the Sabun River are available,$$$$.
Another four miles past the zoo and education center is the
Monkey Bay Wildlife Sanctuary.Although there are a few
monkeys in the sanctuary,the site is primarily a nature pre-
serve covering an extensive area of the Sabun River Valley.
Various tours are offered.Fees only for services,canoe rent-
als,etc.You should plan on spending the entire day on this
Western Highway excursion.
Most of the other Mayan sites in Belize other than Altun Ha
are much farther away and not nearly as accessible,espe
cially for day-visitors.However,if a shore excursion to
Lamanai is offered,you should seriously consider this op
tion.This is one of the largest Mayan sites and contains sev
eral magnificent temple structures and a ball court.
Moreover,the jungle setting is something right out of the
movies.Lamanai canbe reachedby road,but the most inter
esting way to get there is by boat up the New River.This is
the best way to really experience the Belize jungle.Either
way,anentire day must be allowedfor this trip,thereby pre
cluding any other sightseeing while in Belize.It could be
worth the sacrifice!Admission to site is $;tours fromBelize
City (includingthoseofferedby thecruiseline) will be$$$$.
Vicinity of
Belize City
Davis Bank
Altun Ha
Salt Creek
Sand Hill
Lord’s Bank
Flowers Bank
La Democracia
Double Head Cabbage
Belize Zoo
Big Falls
Baboon Sanctuary
Bermudian Landing
Willows Bank
Seasonal Roads
To San
To Orange Walk
To Orange Walk
Gales Point
People don’t come to Belize to shop.However,this is not to say that
there aren’t some nice things to purchase or that there is a lack of
places to shop.Besides the usual tourist trinkets,the most popular
items are Mayan handicrafts such as baskets,carved bowls and vari
ous carved decorative figures made from a local wood known as
zirecote.Some of the small villages that you pass near sights away
fromBelize City are good places to get these items.At least the price
will be lower than in Belize City.Within the city the majority of shops
are along Regent Street and Albert Street (the latter being one block
to the west of Regent).The one place within Belize City that is worth
going to is the National Handicrafts Centre,2 South Park Street,
south side of Memorial Park in the Fort George District.Here you will
find the works of more than 500 native craftsmen and women on
display.Most of the guided shore excursions will stop here as well to
allowyou time to shop.If your ship is here on Saturday it will proba
bly beopenbut only if youcomeviaatour.OpenMonday toFriday.
Sports &Recreation
Divingandsnorkelingare the major recreational pursuits inBelize.As
a matter of fact,the off-shore coral reef along virtually the entire
coast of Belize (the longest in the Western Hemisphere) makes it one
of the premier destinations anywhere for this type of activity.
The single best area for these sports is in the group of islands known
as the Northern Cayes,which are 25 to 50 miles distant fromBelize
City.Especially noteworthy in this group are Ambergris Caye,the
Hol Chan Marine Reserve and Caye Caulker.Situated some 25
miles west of Belize City is the Turneffe Atoll,also an excellent place
for both diving and snorkeling.All have a wonderful variety of
marine life and beautiful coral formations.At some you can even
swim with the relatively harmless nurse sharks.Stingrays are also
commonly seen.Although there is regularly scheduled boat trans
portationfromBelize City tomost of these places,the schedules may
not always be convenient with your port call hours.Because of their
isolatedlocation,it wouldbe best not torisk missingyour shipandto
use excursion facilities of your cruise ship to get there and back.
Almost all of these islands have nice white sand beaches for lying in
the sun.However,swimming conditions are not always the best.
Other sporting options are more limited because they are too far
fromthe port to be practical on a day visit.However,sailing and all
types of boating are popular and can be arranged through your
cruise line’s excursion office or in Belize City.This also includes fish
ing trips.Many varieties of fish can be caught all along the coast.
Boca Cocolishi
Dos Pos
Boca Olivia
Tras di
Int’l Airport
Playa Chiquito
Playa Grandi
Oranje Pan
Nat’l Park
4.8 KM
Paved Roads
Unpaved Roads
Cycling Tracks
Part of the Netherlands Antilles,an autonomous constituent of the
Kingdomof the Netherlands.
Area:112 square miles.The island measures approximately 24 miles
in length and varies fromthree to five miles in width.
National Tourist Office:TourismCorporation Bonaire;
The middle member of the so-called“ABCIslands” (alongwithAruba
and Curaçao),Bonaire is the second largest of the group in area;
however,it has the smallest population.The entire island is a coral
reef.Bonaire is very sparsely populated(there are actually more of its
famous pink flamingos in residence than people) and also sees far
fewer visitors thaneither of its neighbors.Insome ways,this is one of
the most alluring and charming features of Bonaire.
The name of the island is a variation of the Arawak Indian word for
low country,which accurately describes the terrain.The Spaniards
eventually depopulated the island by sending the natives to work on
other islands.After that they sawlittle reasontokeepBonaire,sothe
Dutch acquired it in 1834.The Dutch were more astute because they
understood that the dry and sunny climatic conditions were ideal for
the production of salt through evaporation.They brought in slaves
to work the saltpans that today are home to the flamingos.
The name of Bonaire’s largest town translates from the Dutch as
“Coral Dike.” It’s a good moniker because everything in town (and
around the island,for that matter) is a pleasant blend of Caribbean
and Dutch.Situated on the island’s west coast about midway
between the northernmost and southernmost points,everything on
Bonaire is within a short distance of Kralendijk.
Tender service is necessary to reach the shore from your ship’s
anchorage.However,the pier is only a five-minute walk from the
center of downtown Kralendijk.
See the cost chart for shore activities onpage 117.
Tourist Information Office
Kaya Grandi#2,one block inland fromthe harbor.
Getting Around
Everything in Kralendijk itself is within walking distance of the pier.
When it comes to getting around outside of town,there is no public
transportation on Bonaire.Taxis are available but at a cost of about
$13 per person per hour,which can make it a very expensive way to
travel.Car rentals are alsoavailable (some will pick youupat the pier)
but it is difficult to find vehicles with automatic transmission and,
when you can find one,it is going to be pricey.It is a good idea to
rent a 4WDminimoke or “gurgel” (variations of jeep-style vehicles) if
you plan to explore the sometimes rough interior.If all of these limi
tations are causing you to wonder how you’re going to see the
island,you can always fall back on the guided shore excursion.Some
good local tour operators are:
Bonaire Tours, (011) (599) 717-8778;
Rooi Lamoeachi KumukuPark,(011) (599) 717-8489;
Tropical Travel, (011) (599) 717-2500;
Local car rental agency:AB Carrent, (011) (599)
One-Day Sightseeing Tour
Because of Bonaire’s sparse population (therefore,little traffic) and
its relatively small size,youwill be able tosee just about everythingof
interest in a single day.The only problemyou might have is finding
time to take advantage of the recreational opportunities,of which
there are many.Infact,the number one attractiononthe islandis the
scuba and snorkeling paradise of Bonaire Maritime Park.See the
Sports & Recreation section on page 156 for details.
Begin your walking tour of Kralendijk by wandering around the
pretty town center and its combination of Dutch-style red-tiled roof
homes and Caribbean color.Along the waterfront,you’ll have great
views of KleinBonaire (Small Bonaire),anislandoff the coast.At the
southern end of town near the Ro-Ro Pier are the remains of Fort
Oranje.A little farther walk to the Kaya Sabana will bring you to the
Museo Boneriano,a museumof Bonaire’s history and culture in a
nicely restored 110-year-old manor home.$.
Other than shopping,everything else to see in Bonaire is outside of
town.Bonaire has no other communities that even merit the word
“town” – they’re all small villages,and that is part of the island’s
unique charm.So let’s get out of town.
First head to the southern portion of the island via the west side
coastal road.The south of Bonaire is an arid and almost moon-like
landscape called the kunuku.It is the Bonairian equivalent of the
Outback!Fortunately,it’s much smaller and easier to explore.In
under 10 miles from Kralendijk you will reach the Saltpans.This
amazing landscape of pink ground is a result of the evaporation of
saltwater.Adding to the surreal natural atmosphere are three
30-foot-high stacks of salt crystals that were piled up in the 1880s as
navigational aids.The dry climate has preserved themalmost exactly
as they were more than100 years ago.The Saltpans are alsohome to
many flamingos whose pink color blends in with the surroundings.
Continue south along the road and you’ll have the Caribbean on one
side of the road and the lake known as the Pekelmeer on the other.
There are alsoflamingos here – especially duringthe breedingseason
that occurs inMarchandApril.At that time youhave toobserve from
afar so as not to disturb them.Cabaje is at the end of the Pekelmeer
onBonaire’s southerntip.Here youcansee the small huts that served
as houses for slaves during the plantation era.The road will then
swing around Lacre Point and past lovely Lac Bay (one of the
island’s premier beaches).
Continue north back through Kralendijk but staying on the main
road past the village of Fontein to the Boca Onima.By this time you
will have noticed that the northern end of the island is somewhat
hilly and there is more foliage than in the south.Boca Onima is a nat-
ural grotto and cave that was inhabited by the island’s natives.Their
drawings on the walls and ceilings are still visible.At the village of
Rincon there is a fork in the road.Go straight ahead and you’ll soon
reach the Goto Meer Lake.This is where you can see Bonaire’s larg
est gathering of flamingos.
Upon leaving the Goto Meer,take the other fork for the short ride to
the entrance of the Washington-Slagbaai National Park.This
13,500-acre preserve covers about 20% of Bonaire’s land and is
home to a remarkable variety of birds and lizards.It offers fine views
fromits rollinghills.There are tworoads,the 28-mile “YellowRoute”
and the 17-mile “Green Route,” both of which are unpaved and
rather rugged.A4WDvehicle is necessary toexplore the park.$$$.
Without the national park,your trip around Bonaire,including travel
and time for stops,should take about 3½ hours.The two national
park roads take,respectively,about two and three hours,so you will
have to plan your time allotment in the park based upon your ship’s
port of call time as well as allowances for any other activities.
Other Attractions
If you devote a full day to sightseeing and do all that was mentioned
above,youwill have coveredall of the points of interest onBonaire.
Unlike many of the Caribbeanislands,Bonaire isn’t knownas a major
shopping destination.Nonetheless,it is considered to have reason
ably goodbuys onfine items suchas crystal,jewelry,leather andper
fumes.There isn’t any main shopping district but downtown
Kralendijk is so small that you shouldn’t have any trouble finding
stores.Bonaire Craftsmen features locally made items.Down
town’s Les Galleries has the biggest concentration of stores.
Sports &Recreation
The Bonaire Marine Park encompasses the coral reef that surrounds
the entire island as well as Klein Bonaire.It is one of the Caribbean’s
foremost places for scuba diving and snorkeling because of the
unusually clear water and the variety of marine life.The best sites are
mostly on the southwest coast of Bonaire and surrounding all of
KleinBonaire.Inmost places the coral reef begins right at the water’s
edge.In addition to many varieties of coral,such as elkhorn coral,
there are colorful sponges and a variety of fish.Among the latter are
beautiful angelfish,seahorses and the unusual frog fish.The Bonaire
government is very concerned about protecting the reef and there
are strict regulations governing use of the Marine Park,so be sure to
pick up a pamphlet that outlines the rules.$$$ for park use,in addi
tion to fees for renting equipment.
Lac Bay is in a beautiful natural setting and is a favorite destination
for those seeking sun and surf.Because of the strong winds around
the bay,it is also the premier windsurfing locale in Bonaire.
Cayman Islands
Dependency of Great Britain;part of the British West Indies.
Area:102 square miles.
National Tourist Office:Cayman Islands Department of Tourism,
(305) 266-2300,
The Caymans are a low-lying group of islands located south of Cuba
and west of Jamaica.The group consists of three major islands –
Cayman Islands
GrandCayman,CaymanBrac andLittle Cayman.They weren’t set
tled by Europeans until 1734 despite the fact that they had been dis
covered more than two centuries before that.The new colony was
made a part of Jamaica and it stayed that way until 1959,when it
became a part of the short-lived Federation of the West Indies.They
returned to the status of a British dependency in 1962.To most
Americans the Cayman Islands are probably best known as an
offshore financial haven.Indeed,banking is a major industry of this
prosperous colony.The standard of living is higher than in most
other Caribbean nations.Public begging or solicitation of any kind
isn’t allowed and it is,therefore,just about the only place in the
islands where you won’t be approached by people on the street ask
ingif youwant tobuy this or that.Another distinctionof the Cayman
Islands is the fact that the residents have voluntarily chosen to stay
within the British Crown.Independence seems to hold no special
allure for Caymanites.Of course,in reality,they are as free as any
people in the world.Most of the population is at least partially
descended from the plantation-era slaves,but mixed racial back-
ground is extremely common.The blend works well here as there
hasn’t beenany kindof problemregardingrace relations.This is truly
one of the more tranquil societies to be found.
Grand Cayman (George Town)
Grand Cayman is the largest of the small island group,although it
measures only about 22 miles long and around eight miles at its
greatest width.George Town is the capital and only significant com
munity.With approximately 15,000 people,it is home to more than
a third of all Cayman Islanders.Grand Cayman is the center of the
islands’ banking and financial services industry.As such,it is one of
the wealthiest of all the Caribbean islands,and this is especially
apparent in tidy and affluent George Town.
All cruise shippassengers have totransfer toGeorge Townvia tender
service.You will be brought to either the North Harbour or the
South Harbour.This matters only in terms of remembering where
your tender will be to take you back to the ship;both harbors are
within a three-minute walk of one another,because they surround a
small bay fronting central George Town.
See the cost chart for shore activities onpage 117.
Cayman Islands
Tourist Information Office
At Cricket Square on Elgin Avenue,about a 10-minute walk fromthe
harbor.However,an information kiosk is available at the North Har
Getting Around
How you get around on Grand Cayman depends upon whether or
not you will be leaving George Town.If you stay in town,then all of
the sights and activities are within walking distance of the harbor.
Harbour Drive curves around the north and south harbour areas (it
changes name to North Church Street or South Church Street when
leaving the town center),while the main street,Cardinal Avenue,
intersects it just north of the two Harbours.For places on other parts
of the islandyoucantake a taxi (plenty are available right outside the
harbor) or try using the local bus service.You can get route and
schedule information from the depot on Edward Street at Jennett
Street,near the public library.
Renting a car allows more flexibility and the roads on Grand Cayman
are very good.The only negative is that you have to drive on the left.
The car rental establishments are either at the airport or a fewmiles
away alongSevenMile Beach;however,they will come pick youup.
Local car rental agencies:Cayman Auto Rental, (345)
949-1013;Andy’s Car Rental, (345) 949-8111.
One-Day Sightseeing Tour
Because of the closeness of most places of interest,the good roads
and the availability of taxis,there is little reason for the
independent-mindedtraveler to spendextra money on an organized
shore excursion.I suggest you rent a car and just remember to be
extra careful,because you have to keep left on this British island.
Head out of George Town by driving north on North Church Street,
which soon becomes West Bay Road.This passes most of the island’s
hotels and parallels Seven Mile Beach,the most popular beach on
Grand Cayman.The beach itself is actually less than six miles long,
but who’s counting?
About 7½miles north of the harbor you will come to the tiny com
munity of Hell.Turnright onWater Course Roadandthenright again
on Hell Road to the Hell Post Office and park there.No,you’re not
going to be touring the post office.But adjacent to it is a wild sight –
the coral formations of Hell.More than 1½ million years old,the
coral has been eroded into fantastic shapes and forms and,to make
Grand Cayman (George Town)
things even more dramatic,has turned blackish froma local formof
algae,as well as fromthe mineral caymanite.It is easy tosee howthe
place got its name.Viewing is from behind either of two gift
shop/restaurants (you can’t see the formations fromthe road).A lot
of visitors just love to send postcards to friends and relatives from
this location so they can have the postmark,“Hell,Grand Cayman.”
As intriguing as Hell is,it isn’t all that big,so you will be spending
only about 15 minutes here.
Next,go back to Watercourse Road and turn to the right.You’ll soon
come toNorthWest Point Roadwhere a left turnwill bringyoutothe
Cayman Turtle Farm.Turtles have been historically important in the
Cayman Islands as a major food source.In fact,“Sir Turtle” is a
peg-legged turtle pirate that is incorporated into the Cayman’s offi
cial emblem.The Farmis the only facility in the world devoted to the
study and raising of green ocean turtles.Once nearly extinct,the
work of this facility has brought them back to much greater num
bers.There are more than 15,000 of themat the farmand you can
see them on a self-guided tour that passes several holding tanks –
oftensofilledwiththese creatures that it is sometimes hardtodistin-
guish one fromthe other.The largest of the turtles weigh over 600
pounds.Youcanalsoholdasmall turtle,whichmakes agreat photo.
There’s a gift shop on the premises,but remember
that turtle products cannot be brought into the
United States.$$.
Nowreverse your route back south (North West Point Road becomes
West Bay Road).If youare goingtobe continuingwiththe suggested
itinerary,you have two options.The slower route will take you back
through the heart of George Town via Church Street and around to
the south side of the island on South Bay Road.Alternatively,you
could bypass the city center by the Harquail By-Pass,passing the air
port andthenviaCrewes RoadintoSouthBay Road.This will take less
time,but youare more prone togettinga little lost!Either way,you’ll
winduponthe SouthBay Road,whichruns alongthe southernshore
of Grand Cayman island.About 10 miles fromGeorge Town,you’ll
come to the town of Savannah.Turn right,following signs for the
Pedro St.James Historic Site.A former plantation established in
1780,the highlight of the eight-acre complex is the three-story
manor house.It is sometimes called the “castle” because the house
was built with a number of fortified features to protect against both
tropical storms and pirates.Representative government was first
established in the Cayman Islands at a meeting held in the house in
1831.Allow approximately 30 minutes to visit the site.$$.
Cayman Islands
Afterwards,return to the main road and travel east.You’ll soon pass
through the historic Bodden Town (where you can stop for lunch)
and then continue on to East Sound Road.A left turn here will bring
you shortly to the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park.The park covers
about 65 acres and is devoted primarily to the local flora and fauna.
An easy trail loops through the grounds and exposes visitors to
almost half of the varieties of plants that grow on the Cayman
Islands.There’s also an iguana habitat,where visitors can observe
more than 40 of these reptiles in their natural surroundings.Finally,
the park is the site of the RankinHome.The small woodencottage is
typical of early Cayman Island housing in which up to a dozen family
members lived in three rooms.You should be able to complete your
visit in 45 minutes.$$.Leaving the gardens,you can reverse your route
backtoGeorgeTownandreturnthecar (or let goof your taxi driver).
The most interesting thing to see and do in George Town itself is the
Atlantis Submarine,which is on Church Street less than a
five-minute walk fromthe harbor.See page 125-26 under Aruba for
details. (800) 887-8571 or locally (345) 949-7700.Call for exact
schedule,which varies depending upon season and cruise ship traf-
fic.$$$$.Allow1½hours for the entire submarine adventure.If you
feel uncomfortable about being in a submarine,semi-submersibles
are operated by Nautilus.They are on Harbour Drive,about three
blocks north of the tender docks, (345) 945-1355.However,it’s
almost as expensive and you won’t see as much.
Downtown George Town doesn’t have all that much to see and you
can visit it all in under an hour,excluding any shopping time.The
Cayman Islands National Museum on Harbour Drive is a former
government office buildingthat nowdocuments the island’s history.
Closed on Sunday.$.
A walk around Harbour Drive and along Cardinal Avenue will take
you past colorful,mostly wooden structures,quite a few of which
are semi-historic.If you visit the post office,you’ll see hundreds and
hundreds of mailboxes andwonder why there are somany for sucha
small city.That’s because there is no delivery of mail in the Cayman
Islands – everyone has to come to the post office to pick it up.As a
result,it is the foremost meeting place in town for the locals!It’s
located on Cardinal Avenue at Edward Street,a few blocks inland
fromthe harbor.
Other Attractions
The authentic Pirates’ Caves along the main highway in
Bodden Town allow you to climb down and through some
small caves that were hideouts for pirates.It’s mildly inter
esting,but is best for children.$$.
Grand Cayman (George Town)
The BlowHoles:About a mile before you come to East End,
the BlowHoles shoot upto60-foot geyser-like rushes of wa
ter that are forced through the rocks.Also in the vicinity is
the monument andlookout at East Endthat commemorates
the 1794 wreck of the 10 Sails sailing ship.
Rum Point is another popular destination.Details will be
under Sports & Recreation.
Travel to the far less developed outer islands of Little
Cayman and Cayman Brac is only possible by air.There are
day-trips available but they are very expensive.There isn’t
any particular point of interest on the other islands,but
those seeking a more natural outdoor experience will find
themto be among the least developed Caribbean islands.
The tax-free shopping in the port of George Town helps make this an
even more important aspect of visiting the Caymans.The many retail
shops of the commercial district range frombasic souvenir shops to
the most upscale establishments,with the emphasis on the latter.
Regardless of the type of store youare seeking,youwill findit onCar-
dinal Avenue between the waterfront and Panton Street,or on Har-
bour Drive north of the intersection with Cardinal.A smaller
shopping area can be found a block behind the post office on
Shedden Road.There are also several shopping centers along Seven
Mile Beach Road,where the main resort hotels are located.
There are good buys to be found on a long list of products,including
cameras and photographic equipment,china,clothing,crystal,jew
elry,leather,perfumes,watches,and British woolens.All types of
fine arts are alsoeasy tofind.Ingeneral,the quality of all the goods is
excellent and the most famous designer names from around the
worldare all inplentiful supply.What youwon’t findinGeorge Town
or anywhere on Grand Cayman are street vendors,since that is con
sidered a formof begging,a practice that is outlawed on this afflu
ent island.Bargaining is also not usually practiced here,especially in
the upscale shops.On the other hand,it never hurts to try making a
counter-offer on high-priceditems such as jewelry or fine arts.When
it comes to locally made items,look for jewelry and sculpture made
from either coral or conch shells.Baskets are another popular local
item.Cayman Islanders are known for producing some excellent
works of fine art.
The Kirk groupof shops is under single ownership.Their several loca
tions are excellent places to get just about anything.(They even have
Cayman Islands
a supermarket.) The area where the shopping is located is rather
small and you can easily cover all of it during a shopping excursion.
Browse and enjoy.
Sports &Recreation
The Cayman Islands boldly state that they are the world capital of
diving,and they may well be right in their assertion.The islands are
essentially mountains in a deep ocean trench with steep dropoffs.
Moreover,Grand Cayman itself is surrounded by a spectacular coral
reef.Adding to the fun are numerous old shipwrecks that can be
explored.These features combine to make divers salivate at the
thought of getting into the water.While snorkelers can’t explore as
much territory,proponents of this sport will also be rewarded with
the beautiful coral that can be explored simply by wading into the
water fromthe beach and then heading under.
On the west side of the island (the George Town side) diving spots
include the Aquarium,Big Tunnels and Bonnie’s Arch.On the
north are Eagle Ray Pass,Hepp’s Pipeline,and the challenging
Grand Canyon for experienced divers only.The east coast has the
MazeandGroupers Grotto,while the southshore has the Japanese
Gardens,Devil’s Grottoand the Parrot’s Landing.The latter is only
a hundred or so feet offshore and thus makes a good place for snor-
keling too.
Another good place for snorkeling is at Smith Cove on the south
coast.In addition to the reefs and other formations the waters
around Grand Cayman are inhabited by an incredible number of col
orful species of fish.Deep-sea fishing for marlin,tuna and wahoo is
best off of RumPoint,Southwest Point,the South Coast Dropoff or
Twelve Mile Bank.Conditions are also excellent for such sports as
windsurfing and parasailing.
When it comes to great white sand beaches,Grand Cayman is also
prime territory.Seven Mile Beach is one of the Caribbean’s longest
beaches (although,as previously mentioned,it is only about 5½
miles long).More secluded places are Coliers Point and Old Man
Bay on the north shore and Cayman Kai,also on the north side,just
down the road fromRumPoint.And speaking of RumPoint,this is
an all-purpose recreational destination.It is separated from the
Seven Mile Beach area by the broad North Sound and has been
turned into a large and attractive park.The beach is one of the best
on the island and is also a good place for snorkeling because of the
shallow waters and nearby reef.The beach has tree-shaded ham
mocks,so this is a real tropical paradise.You can drive there by a
rather circuitous route that goes past the Queen Elizabeth II Botani
cal Gardens and all the way to Old Man Bay and then back west on
the North Shore Road.However,a much easier and more enjoyable
way toget there is tojust headupSevenMile Beacha bit andtake the
frequent ferry service that connects Rum Point to the dock at the
Hyatt Regency Hotel.
Swimmers and beach goers can pick out the place that seems most
appealing to themand get there by car or taxi.However,other types
of activities requiring boats or equipment rental,.such as scuba div
ing,can be arranged most easily through your ship’s excursion
office.Or you can do it independently through the numerous opera
tors along Seven Mile Beach.They’re lined up along North Church
Street and the lower portion of West Bay Road.
Hikers will enjoy the Mastic Trail (just off the Frank Sound Road,
immediately before the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park).Threading
for about two miles through an old woodland area on a footpath
dating back more than 200 years,the trail brings hikers through a
variety of terrains ranging from swamps to farms to rocky
outcroppings.Although the trail isn’t overly strenuous,it is not rec-
ommended for those who are out of shape or have difficulty walk-
ing.Guided walks are given daily,except Sunday at 8:30 am and
3pm(8:30amonly onSaturday).$$$$.Reservations arerequired.
Golf outings can be arranged through your ship’s excursion desks,
but there are a couple of courses that you can play without havingto
be a hotel guest.These are the Links at Safe Haven (West Bay Road
north of George Town);and Sunrise Family Golf Centre (on the
shore of North Sound;turn left at town of Savannah).The Links is
considered to be one of the outstanding courses in all of the Carib
bean,while Sunrise is good for less-experienced golfers.
There is no Colombian national tourist office in the United States.
Area:440,000 square miles.
Situated in a magnificent setting along the Caribbean,this city of
750,000 residents was founded in 1533.With its many important
historic points of interest,it’s unfortunate that more southern Carib
beancruises don’t call onthe city.(It is a more frequent stoponmany
trans-Panama Canal itineraries.)
Arrival:Your ship will dock in Bocagrande,usually anchoring off
shore and necessitating tender service.Bocagrande is on a narrow
stripof landdividingthe Bahia de Cartagena fromthe Caribbean.It is
only a few miles along the coast into Cartagena’s city center.If you
are on your own,you can get into town by either taxi or bus.The for
mer only costs a few dollars and is the preferable means.
Tourist Information Office
In the Parque Flanagan,Bocagrande,adjacent to the Playa Hotel.
Getting Around
Other than the impressive fortifications of Cartagena,most of the
points of interest are within the relatively small area that was once
the walled city.These are the adjacent neighborhoods of Centro and
SanDiego.This area is relatively safe for individual visitors andis best
seen on foot.The fortifications can be reached by bus,but it is sug-
gested that you go there either by taxi or guided shore excursion.
This also applies to anything else in Cartagena,that is outside of
Centro and San Diego,as well as places outside the city itself.If you
stay in the resort area of Bocagrande,the main street to be familiar
with is the Avenida San Martín,which parallels the waterfront.
One-Day Sightseeing Tour
The old city used to be surrounded by an impressive series of walls
but,apart froma fewsmall exceptions,they were razedseveral years
ago.Still,this part of town (known as Centro) has an old-world
charm with its narrow streets and dozens of historic structures.A
goodplace to start a walkingtour is the Plaza de los Coches andthe
nearby Plaza de la Aduana.Eachis a goodexample of colonial archi
tecture,including the arcaded streets that still performtheir original
function – providing shade from the sun.Plaza de la Aduana has a
statue of Columbus and at its southwest corner is the Churchof San
Pedro Claver.Built in 1605,the monastery was renamed for one of
its early monks who was canonized for the help he gave to the poor.
His remains are in a glass coffin placed atop an altar.$$.Fromhere,
proceed down Calle Juan de Dios and turn right on Ricuarte,which
soon changes names to San Domingo.Soon you’ll reach the Palacio
de la Inquisición.An impressive early 18th-century structure with
typical baroque ostentation,the palace now houses a small
museum,which is not as interesting as the architecture.Open Mon
day through Friday.$.
Turn right at the corner on Calle Ayos Coliseo and in one block you’ll
reach Cartagena’s Cathedral at the Plaza de Bolivar.Although the
exterior is quite plain,the interior has a few features worth seeing,
including the beautiful gilded altar,marble pulpit and several side
chapels aroundthe nave.The Cathedral was built in1575,but hadto
be rebuilt after muchof it was destroyedby the Englishunder Francis
Drake.Also on this plaza is the interesting Museo del Oro y
Arqueológico (Museum of Gold and Archaeology).Located in a
rather small old building,the collection is best for its quality rather
than quantity.Open daily except Sunday.$.
It is worth taking some time to wander through the streets north of
the Cathedral.Here you will find many stately old houses and get a
true feel for what it must have been like in colonial Cartagena.When
youreachthe Paseode la Muralia,turnright.This street,whichparal
lels the sea,is where the walls of the old city once were.Although
some small sections of the wall are still around,the Paseo is now
largely bordered by a pleasant park.On the opposite side of the park
the Avenida Santander is a pleasant waterfront thoroughfare.
The above portionof your tour shouldtake about 2½hours.Nowit’s
time for what will probably be the highlight of your visit to
Cartagena – the Castillo San Felipe de Barajas.Situated on San
Lázaro hill,just east of the city,the fort is more than 130 feet above
the sea.Most of what you see today was completed by the mid-17th
century.It constitutes the largest fort ever built by the Spanish in the
Western Hemisphere.Considering the size of some others,that is
really impressive!Youcantake a guidedtour or explore onyour own.
Either way you’ll see various bastions and facilities,including a series
of tunnels underneath the fortress.The views fromthe ramparts are
exceptional.Give yourself about 2½ hours for an excursion to the
castle,including round-trip travel time.$$.There is an additional
small charge for guided tours.Although public buses do go here
from the old city,it is suggested that those not coming via guided
shore excursion take a taxi.
Depending upon how much time you have when you get back to
Bocagrande,you may find that some pleasant time can be spent
along the beachfront,with its many hotels and shops.
Other Attractions
Military and history buffs who haven’t had enough even
withSanFelipe might want tovisit one of several other forts,
including SanLorenzo(near the city) or Fuerte SanJosé,at
Bocachica on the island of Tierrabomba.There is frequent
boat service.
Galerazamba is an interesting town some 30 miles north
east of Cartagena.Of special note is the crater of the Volcán
del Totumo.Here youcannot only take insome scenery but
some non-scenery as well – the famous mud baths that are
supposed to have cosmetic and therapeutic value.Baths
and massages are available at very reasonable prices.
A good day-trip from Cartagena is to the Corales del
Rosario National Park,a small archipelago southwest of
Bocagrande.The islands have mangroves and coral reefs.
Visitors may enjoy seeing the variety of bird and marine life.
There’s also an aquarium.
In Bocagrande,the main shopping district is along the Avenida San
Martín.There aren’t any especially goodbuys here except fromstreet
vendors,who usually set up shop in the afternoon.The stores here
are generally more upscale than in other parts of Colombia.Within
Cartagena,the best downtown shopping is in the Plaza de Las
Bóvedas in the northwest quarter of the old town.Here you will find
23 different shops (mostly cateringtotourists),locatedinthe former
dungeons that are part of a still remaining section of the old city
Sports &Recreation
There are many beaches in the area.Unfortunately,most of the con
venient ones like Bocagrande are not that clean.They can also be
very crowded and you will be pestered constantly by vendors selling
all sorts of things you don’t want.Your best bet,especially if it is a
weekday,is Marbella,which is only a couple of miles north from
Other Attractions
Less-Visited Ports
San Andrés Island
Some 120 miles east of Nicaragua and about 240 miles north of Pan
ama (it is actually some 415 miles to the nearest point in Colombia),
this isolatedislandis a great place for those seekingtoget away from
it all.Relaxing and water sports are the two primary activities.
Santa Maria
Situated less than 150 miles to the northeast of Cartagena,Santa
Maria is a pleasant seaside community with a nice beach.Although
the more interesting Cartagena is too far fromhere for meaningful
day-trips,nearby Mount Cristobal Colón rises to more than 19,000
feet.This makes for dramatic scenery and mountain excursions.
Costa Rica
Independent republic,between Nicaragua and Panama.
Area:19,575 square miles.
National Tourist Office:ICT,
(800) 343-6332,
Costa Rica has,during the past decade,become something of a
poster child for eco-tourism because of its many unique places of
ecological significance.These range from the interior’s beautifully
lush and largely unspoiled rain forests to the majestic mountains,
with their simmering volcanos.Because tourismto Costa Rica on any
sort of major scale is a recent development,there has beena decided
effort to retain as much of the wilderness as possible.As such,
eco-tourismis especially important and popular in Costa Rica.
Puerto Limón
Puerto Limón is situated on the Caribbean side of this narrowcoun
try that,like neighboring Panama and Nicaragua,separates the
Atlantic fromthe Pacific worlds.Although the port itself has little of
great interest,it makes for a fascinatingday port of call because of its
proximity tosome of the natural wonders that are makingCosta Rica
a major tourism destination.It is approximately 60 miles from the
national capital of SanJosé,andseveral national parks are withinthe
same general range.PuertoLimónis acity of about 55,000people.
Costa Rica
Puerto Limón
Ships of all sizes can dock at Puerto Limón’s extensive piers,which
are about two blocks from the center of town.On occasion,cruise
ships may also dock at Moin,about four miles to the west of Puerto
Tourist Information Office
Puerto Limón does not have a tourist information office.
Costa Rica
Puerto Limón
Moín Portete &
Playa Bonita
250 M
1.Former train station
2.Soccer stadium
3.Baseball stadium
4.Taxi stand
5.Hotel Miamí
6.Post Office/Museum
8.Hotel Acón
9.San José bus stop
10.Parque Vargas
11.Hotel Park
12.Sixaola bus stop
(via Cahuita,Puerto Vieja)
13.Moín bus stop
14.Hotel Internacional
15.Gas station
Puerto Limón
Getting Around
As far as the limited sights and activities within Puerto Limón itself
are concerned,everything is close enough to walk.That’s the good
news.However,all of the most important places for visitors are
locatedat least anhour’s drive away.Because of the limitedavailabil
ity of car rentals andgas stations,as well as frequently far-from-ideal
road conditions,I do not recommend traveling to the interior on
your own.Numerous guidedshore excursions are the best way togo.
There is also bus service to San José and to the nearby town of Moin,
the latter beingagateway for one of the more popular excursions.
If you’re the stubborn type and do want to drive on your own,then
take Highway 32 west fromPuerto Limón to Highway 10.The latter
roadwill take youtoSanJosé andjunctions withroads that will reach
all of the important sites.Within Puerto Limón,it is easy to negotiate
the street system.Numbered avenues (avenidas) run east-to-west
starting with Avenida 1 at the sea,while numbered streets (calles)
run north-to-south.
One-Day Sightseeing Tour
Because of the distance and,therefore,time involved in getting to
the major attractions,it isn’t generally possible to combine bits and
pieces of differing itineraries.Therefore,you should plan on one of
the following three basic options.
Option 1:An all-day trip to the unique and fabulous Rain Forest
Aerial Tramway is my excursion of choice.Located on a beautiful
private reserve adjacent to a national park,the tramway allows you
todosomethingthat fewpeople can – explore the biological ecosys
temof a forest canopy.Open-air cars suspended froma cable carry
small groups of passengers on a 90-minute journey that begins near
the topof the canopy.Fromthis vantage point youwill be able tosee
countless types of birds and flora.Some of the species of trees and
plants haven’t even been fully identified.The return portion of the
trip actually takes you above the canopy for a bird’s-eye viewof the
rainforest.This is exactly what most people come toCostaRicatosee
– the rain forest at its most glorious.This is the easiest and probably
the best way to see it.The excursion also includes a couple of other
brief stops for shoppingor quick views.$$$$ for the tramway if trav
eling on your own.
Option 2:Another full-day trip will take you to the capital of San
José.Founded in 1736 and having a population of more than
300,000 people,San José is also the cultural capital of the country.It
has several fine museums,including the outstanding National
Museum,with its exhibits of pre-Columbian native art and Costa
Rica’s natural history.Alsoof interest are the OperaHouse,National
Library,National Archives,a cathedral dating from the 18th cen
tury and the National Theater.(If you are traveling on your own,
museumadmissions range from$ to $$.) The trip fromPuerto Limón
to San José passes through the Braulio Carrillo National Park and
other scenic areas as you rise fromthe lowlands through the central
mountains.Views of the nearby Irazú Volcano are also possible,
depending upon weather conditions.Similar scenery is encountered
on the route in the previous option.On excursions,a stop is made at
Moravia,a quaint village near San José,where you will have some
time to shop for local crafts.
Option 3:Either of the preceding excursions is a wonderful way to
experience at least a limited part of the diversity of Costa Rica.How
ever,there are those visitors who might feel that the four hours of
round-trip travel make themsomewhat less desirable.If so,this final
option includes a half-day shore excursion plus some time in Puerto
Limón itself.The excursion portion will take you to the famous
TortugueroCanals,part of the TortugueroNational Park that cov-
ers miles of Costa Rica’s northern Caribbean shore about 35 miles up
the coast fromPuerto Limón.The area consists of a combination of
natural lakes and channels,along with man-made waterways.In
years gone by it was safer tonavigate the area usingthe canals rather
than being out on the open sea.With modern navigational methods
this is no longer the case and the Tortuguero Canals are nowa scenic
place for recreational boating.Excursions include a narrated boat
ride through the major canals,where you will see hundreds of exam-
ples of flora,along with many species of birds and monkeys.Live
calypso music is provided and,although this isn’t native Costa Rican
music,it is definitely entertaining.Enjoyable,too,is the buffet of
tropical fruit that is provided.
Upon your return to Puerto Limón in the afternoon (the canal excur
sion takes about 4½hours),you’ll have some time to explore the city
center.Just north of the pier at Avenida 1 and Calle 1 is the Parque
Vargas.Situated at a corner of the city and surrounded on two sides
by the Caribbean,the park is a pleasant place with many tall palm
trees andlushflowers.There are many birds inthe park and,if you’re
lucky,you might even be able to see a sloth or two hanging fromthe
trees.A sea wall extends north fromthe park and makes for a pleas
ant stroll.The offshore UvitaIslandis alsovisible fromthis point.The
island is attractive and,if you wish,you can hire a boat to take you
there,although most port calls won’t be long enough to allow for
Costa Rica
San José &Surrounding Area
Puerto Viejo
La Virgen
San Miguel
Vara Blanca
La Paz Waterfall
Volcán Barva
(2906 m/7933 ft)
Volcán Poás
(2704 m/7381 ft)
Monte de
la Cruz
Ciudad Quesada 39 km
(San Carlos)
Horquetas 17 km
(Rara Avis)
Park Entrance
San José
de la Montaña
24 KM
Main Road
Secondary Road
Also of some interest in town is the central market,located between
Avenidas 2 and 3 and Calles 3 and 4.It is about a 10-minute walk
fromthe park.At Avenida 3andCalle 6is the Cathedral.As youwalk
along these downtown streets you will notice that a majority of the
buildings were constructed in the attractive neo-colonial style.Small
balconies with elaborate iron work are common.
Note that if your ship has docked at the port in Moin you will have to
take a bus or taxi toget toPuertoLimóninorder tosee the city.Alter
natively,if youwant toremainat Moinafter touringthe canals,there
is a fine view from a lookout over the harbor just outside of town.
Beaches are nearby.In addition,since Tortuguero boat tours leave
fromhere,you can arrange for a trip on your own rather than using
the guided excursion route.While these tours may not have the
music and buffet,you will often be able to negotiate a price that
includes more sightseeing time on the canals.
Other Attractions
There aren’t any other especially worthwhile sights withinthe city.As
previously mentioned,the fact that the best destinations from the
port require full-day excursions means that you won’t have time to
seek out other places to visit.
Puerto Limón is not a big shopping place but the central market,
between Avenidas 2 and 3 and Calles 3 and 4,is a good spot to buy
just about anything,including local crafts.
Sports &Recreation
Playa Bonita is the best beach in the area.It is about two miles west
of town on the road to Moin.A little past Playa Bonita is Portete,
another nice little beach near Moin.Do not swim at any of the
beaches within Puerto Limón itself as the water is not very clean.
Taxis are the best way to get to either of the beaches,although you
can take one of the local buses that pass both beaches to Moin.
See the cost chart for shore activities onpage 117.
Other Attractions
Part of the Netherlands Antilles,an autonomous constituent of the
Kingdomof the Netherlands.
Area:171 square miles.Its maximumlength is 35 miles and the width
averages about five miles,although at one point it is only two miles
National Tourist Office:Curaçao Tourist Board,
(800) 328-7222,
Curaçao is the largest of the Netherlands Antilles.It shares with
Aruba a very dry climate.Although it lacks many of the former’s
unusual geographic features it does have its share of scenery,given
the hilly terrain in the northern portion of the island.Originally dis
covered and colonized by Spaniards,it first fell to the Dutch in the
17th century.Peter Stuyvesant,more noted for his association with
NewAmsterdam(the former name of NewYork),was governor here
for a time.The Dutch and British battled over Curaçao,but it has
been associated with the Netherlands since 1815.Tourism is an
important industry,as is banking,although not to the extent found
in the Cayman Islands.The distilling industry is significant and the
name of the island has found itself all over the world in the formof
Curaçao liqueur.Its largest city,Willemstad,serves as the capital for
the entire Netherlands Antilles,which includes (besides Curaçao)
Bonaire,St.Eustatius,Saba,andSint Maarten.Aruba usedto be part
of this group.
With about 65,000 residents,Willemstad is a sizable community for
the southern Caribbean.“Downtown” Willemstad flanks either side
of St.Anna Bay,which is actually an inlet connecting the Caribbean
with the Schottegat,the large protected inner harbor.On the east
side is Pundaandonthe west is Otrabanda.Punda is a corruptionof
the Dutch word for “point,” while Otrabanda means “the other
side.” St.Anna Bay is crossed by a number of bridges,including the
famous Queen Emma swinging pontoon bridge.The colorful build
ings andmainly Dutchstyle of architecture give Willemstada distinc
tive European flavor.This atmosphere is further enhanced by the
maze of narrow streets,colorful flowers and numerous markets.
The extensive cruise shipfacilities of Willemstadconsist of five closely
spaced but separate piers accommodating ships of all sizes,so that
tenders are never needed.Four wharves are locatedinside the harbor
alongSt.Anna Bay,three on the Otrabanda side andone deepinside
the harbor of Schottegat.Which one you dock at doesn’t really mat
ter that much since the entire St.Anna waterway is only little more
than a half-mile long.All are in close proximity to the sights and
activities of central Willemstad and transportation fromthe wharves
is readily available.
The fifth facility is the newMega Cruise terminal located outside the
harbor.This is the only dock that can handle the largest mega-liners
because these ships are too large to pass under the fixed Queen
Juliana Bridge,which spans St.Anna Bay.This dock is less than a
quarter-mile southwest of the entrance to the Bay and has complete
services,including bus and taxi terminals and car rental offices.It is
adjacent tothe historic Riffort (anoldfort),whichis beingdeveloped
into a shopping and entertainment complex.
Tourist Information Office
The main tourist office is located in Punda on the Pietermaaiweg.
Just keep walking straight ahead from the Queen Emma Bridge.
However,it will be more convenient to get your information at the
cruise ship docks,which have “semi-official” branch tourist offices.
Getting Around
Although the street pattern (or lack of one) can be somewhat con
fusing,the portions of Willemstad that are of interest to visitors are
small enough to negotiate on foot.The river-like St.Anna Bay is a
good focal point,since many attractions are close proximity on the
shores of Punda and Otrabanda.It is relatively easy to find a taxi
should you tire of walking.Taxis will also take you to many points of
interest aroundthe island,but this canbecome expensive,sorenting
a car is a wiser alternative.Driving is on the right and the systemof
roads onCuraçaois very good.Rates are reasonable whencompared
to many other Caribbean islands.Because of this,I see little reason
why the majority of visitors should need to opt for expensive guided
shore excursions.
Local car rental agencies:Caribe Rentals, (011) (599)
461-3089;Star Rent-a-Car, (011) (599) 462-7111.
One-Day Sightseeing Tour
Curaçao has more to see than can be covered in a single day.Ideally,
you should have a full day for Willemstad itself and another full day
for the rest of the island.However,most cruise ships calling on this
port do schedule a rather lengthy day that should allow you to hit
most of the important places.I have divided the highlight tour into
twoparts,withone segment for the city (onfoot) andone for around
the island(by car).Doingthe drivingpart first will make sure that you
are back in town and near the ship for a quick getaway in case you’re
running late,have a breakdown or get lost.On the other hand,the
timing for having lunch on the ship after seeing the city in the morn
ing works out better.The choice is yours.
Agoodplace tostart any walkingtour of Willemstadis at the famous
Queen Emma Pontoon Bridge (Konigin Emmabrug),which spans
the entry channel into the harbor and connects Otrabanda and
Punda.It swings open to allow ships to pass.At one time it was a
pedestrian bridge and there was no charge for poor people,but
richer folks had to pay 2¢.How was it determined if you were rich
enough to pay the toll?Easy – if you had shoes on,it meant you had
money and had to pay.Well,you can’t say the rich aren’t ingenious
when it comes to saving money.They simply took their shoes off
upon approaching the bridge.It was eventually made free for all.
The east side of the bridge is in Punda,and several attractions are
close by.Fort Amsterdamsits alongthe waterfront just tothe south
of the bridge via the Gouvernementsplein.Built in 1769 to protect
the harbor,it was also where the bigwigs of the Dutch West India
Company resided.There is a small church within the fort that still has
a British cannonball in one of its walls.It was fired way back in 1804.
Today,the fort still serves as a government office building,as well as
the residence of the Governor General.Thechurchis openweekdays,
except between noon and 2 pm.
Go back to the bridge,turn right on the Breedestraat for two blocks
and then make a left on Keukenstraat.A fewblocks north will bring
you to the Kaya Toni Prince and the Postal Museumof the Nether
lands Antilles.This is an interesting collection of Netherlands Antil
les and other postage stamps,along with items used in old post
offices such as boxes and scales.Of equal interest is the fact that the
museum’s home is the oldest building in the Punda section.It was
built in 1693 and was only recently meticulously restored.Its white
balustrade balcony is simply charming.Allow about a half-hour.
Next,continue north on Keukenstraat until you reach the Floating
Market,a most colorful place to visit.Ships,mostly of the sailing
variety,come fromSouth America and line the Waaiget Basin in this
Curaçaoan version of a shopping center.On the far end of the
Floating Market is the small Queen Wilhelmina Bridge,which crosses
the inlet.On the other side is the Curaçao Maritime Museum,facing
the inlet.This is one of Curaçao’s newest museums.There are 40 dif
ferent displays that formachronological sequence.Theexhibits,mod
els andartifacts trace the importance of the maritime influence onthe
history of the island.You should be able to get a good idea of what it
has to offer in about 30 minutes.Open daily,except Sunday.$$.
Nowyou can make your way back to the Queen Emma Bridge to the
Otrabanda side.Once across the bridge,turnright.Make a left at the
next corner and proceed one block to Klipstraat,before making a
right.The Kura Hulanda Museum,Klipstraat 9,is housed in a build
ing that sits on what was once Willemstad’s slave market.It is a
museumof African culture,but the most striking exhibits are those
that tell the story of the slave trade between Africa and the Carib
bean.There is a full-size model of a slave ship’s hold,as well as a typi-
cal cabin to house plantation workers.Allow approximately 30
Your final stop within Willemstad is about a half mile farther east at
the intersection of Donder and Leeuwenhoek Streets,so you might
want to consider hopping into a cab for this one.The fine Curaçao
Museum occupies a 19th-century military hospital.The building is
fairly typical of the highly decorative nature of Dutch architecture.
The grounds surrounding the museum have gardens featuring
plants that are native to Curaçao.Exhibits cover a wide range of top-
ics fromartifacts of the native population to period furnishings.Plan
on spending about 45 minutes at the museum.Closed on weekdays
between noon and 2 pm.It closes for the day on Saturday at 1 pm
and is open from 10 am to 4 pm on Sunday.$.
Nowit’s time to head out of Willemstad and see at least some of the
wonderful sights around the island.Although Curaçao is the largest
of the ABC Islands,it still isn’t very big and no long drives are
involved.From the Queen Juliana Bridge (Konigin Julianabrug),
which is the second of the bridges across St.Anna Bay,head west
until the roadreaches Gasparituandlinks withthe FranklinD.Roose
velt Weg.This road leads out of town and in a couple of miles will
reach the town of Hato.Just before reaching the airport (on the
opposite side of the road) are the Hato Caves.Fascinating tours last
ing approximately an hour will take you into a dozen different cham
bers.Althoughthe caves are attractive,they aren’t anythingof special
geological interest.What is most notable is that the caves were used
by practitioners of various religious “arts,” evident in the names of
some of the chambers,such as the “Black Magic” chamber.$$.
Now head back in the opposite direction and turn left at the
sign-posted road toward Brievengat town (via Jan Nooruynweg,
Schottegatweg and,finally,the Gosieweg).Brievengat is not the
largest but it may be the island’s most beautiful plantation house (or
Landhuizen in Dutch) and it has been meticuously restored to its
original 18th-century appearance.Allowabout anhour for your visit.
Opendaily except Sunday,but it is closedfrom12:15to3pm.$$.
There are about a dozen Landhuizen throughout Curaçao and it is
likely that you’ll bump into some as you travel around the island.The
greatest concentrationof Landhuizenis inRooi Catochi,a suburbof
Willemstad on the east side of the Schottegat.Many of themare just
off the Schottegat Weg Oost.If you liked Brievengat,then you’ll cer
tainly enjoy stopping at some of the others as well.
Both on your way here and along the route to the next attraction,
you will be passing through terrain that is typical of rural Curaçao,a
generally aridterrainwithdivi divi trees like those foundinAruba.Go
back to the Schottegatweg and follow it east until you reach the
Senior &Company Distillery,SchottegatwegOost.Here youwill be
able to take a self-guided tour of the place where the famous orange
flavoredCuraçaoLiqueur is made.Visitors cansample and,of course,
purchase the product.Allow about 30 minutes.
From the distillery,drive south on the winding Schottegatweg Oost
into the Salinjaweg,turning right onto Arnhemstraat.This short
street will end along the coastal road,which eventually becomes
MartinLuther KingBlvd.Thengoabout 3½miles east tothe Curaçao
Sea Aquarium.This is an excellent facility with over 600 different
species of marine species,ranging fromsponges and coral to turtles
and sharks,fromlobsters to all sorts of colorful fish.A main feature
of the complex is the Underwater Observatory,where you can actu
ally look out into the sea,rather than staring at artificially created
aquariums.Times at which various species will be fed are posted.
Animal Encounters is aprogram(anexpensive one) that takes visitors
on a “contact” diving or snorkeling tour with lobsters,rays,sharks
and turtles.Your visit here should take about an hour.However,if
you plan to do any snorkeling or to take part in the Animal Encoun
ter,then you will need to add additional time.Depending upon the
length of your port call this might require taking less time at other
attractions or skippingsomethingthat has less appeal.$$$and$$$$
for Animal Encounters.That should about fill up your available time,
soheadback towardWillemstadandthe pier.If youfollowM.L.King
Blvd.straight,disregarding its many name changes,it will lead you
back into Punda and the Queen Emma Bridge.
Other Attractions
After scanning this list of places of interest,you’ll see why I said that
two days are needed to see the entire island.The general locale
(Punda or Otrabanda) is indicated for places within central
Botanical &Zoological Garden:This is a very attractive se
ries of small gardens in typical Dutch tradition,except that
the flowers are much more tropical.The zoo is rather small
but will amuse small children.Allow about 45 minutes for
seeing the zoo and gardens.Located in Emmastad on the
north side of the Schottegat.$$.
Awalking tour of the former merchant houses inScharloo
is a most pleasant way to spend some time.Scharloo is on
the opposite side of the inlet fromPunda,to the east of the
bridge that connects with the market area.This was where
the wealthy Dutch businessmen built their stately homes.
The architectural style is Dutch,with traces of Caribbean in-
fluence and is quite colorful.Overall,however,if it weren’t
for the warm weather and abundant sunshine,you might
think you were in a town in Holland.
Bank of the Netherlands Antilles Numismatic Museum
(Punda):This small museum has an interesting permanent
collection of coins and notes from the earliest days of the
Netherlands Antilles.Other foreign currencies are also dis-
played on a rotating basis.The ladies will probably prefer
the displays of gemstones.1 Breedsdtraat.Open Monday
through Friday.Closes between 11:30 am and 2 pm.
Mikve Israel-Emanuel Synagogue (Punda):Dating back to
the early 1730s,this is the oldest Jewish house of worship in
continuous use in the Western hemisphere.Although the
building isn’t particularly impressive,the interior is notable
for the sand-covered floor,which represents the wander
ings of the Israelites in the desert as they searched for a
homeland.Then go through the courtyard into the histori
cal museumthat contains items used in Jewish religious rit
uals.Some of them date back to the middle of the 17th
century.Youshouldexpect tospendabout 30minutes here,
including the museum.Hanchi di Snoa &Columbus Streets.
OpenMonday throughFriday (except Jewishandpublic hol
idays).Closes between 11:45 am and 2:30 pm.$ for mu
seum only.
Willemstad Trolley Train Tour (Punda):Lasting 1¼hours,
this is a good way to get a quick overviewof the city if you
decide to spend most of the day touring around the island.
It leaves fromoutside Fort Amsterdam.Call for reservations
and schedule. (011) (599) 94-628833.$$$.
Christoffel National Park:Covering some 4,300 acres at
the island’s northwestern tip,the national park contains
abundant wildlife and interesting rock formations.It is in
stark contrast to the rest of the island,which is nearly flat.
There is also an old plantation house in the park.An exten
sive series of both trails and roads allows for a thorough ex
ploration of its features.One of the roads rises to the top of
Mount Christoffel,which is the highest point on the island.
Youcanexpect tospenda minimumof 90minutes here,but
outdoor enthusiasts could easily find themselves occupied
for hours onend.Thepark closes at 4pm(3pmonSundays).
Curaçao Ostrich & Game Farm:The one-hour tours of this
actual working farmwhere ostriches are bred will teach you
about these interesting and ungainly creatures.Visitors will
have the opportunity toholdanostrichegg(just think of the
omelet youcouldmake withthat!) or a chick.Maybe the lat-
ter isn’t as appetizing,except for little children,who will be
absolutely delighted.Open daily except Monday.Tours de-
part on the hour.$$.
SorghumStalk House:Just off the main road to the north-
ern side of the island (on the way to Christoffel National
Park),this small two-room house made of branches,loam
and sorghum stalks,shows how islanders lived during the
19th century.Open daily except Monday.$.
Atlantis Submarine:Although this trip is as good as any
other Atlantis excursion,I recommend that you do it on an
island with fewer things to see and do than on Curaçao.
However,if youwant tosubmarine here,thensee the boxed
aside under Aruba,page 126) for details.At Curaçao Carib
bean Hotel,John F.Kennedy Blvd.;(800) 887-8571 or lo
cally,(011) (599) 94-610011.Call for exact schedule,which
varies depending upon season and cruise ship traffic.$$$$.
Allow 1½hours for the entire submarine adventure.
See the cost chart for shore activities onpage 117.
Curaçao is considered a good place to shop for foreign-produced
goods because tax laws often allowyou to purchase at a lower price
here than in the country where it was produced.This applies to both
European and South American items.In addition to the usual things
such as cameras,watches and jewelry,you can find good buys on
porcelain and crystal.Fine South American leather products are in
high demand,as are embroidered items,lace,Irish linen and oriental
The mostly pedestrian-only shopping district is centered in Punda in
anarea boundedby the Breedestraat andMaudrostraat onthe north
and south;and by the Costa Gomezplein and Heerenstraat on the
west and east.The pink-tiled streets make this a distinct and attrac
tive commercial area.There is almost a bazaar-like atmosphere.
Another good shopping area is the FloatingMarket.For cruise-ship
visitors,this is more of a tourist attraction than a shopping center,
because most of the salable merchandise is food.However,you can
also find a decent selection of Curaçao-made handicrafts at the
Floating Market and the adjacent land-based market.An even better
selection of locally produced items will be found at Arawak Craft
Products inOtrabanda,near the cruise shipdock southof the Queen
Juliana Bridge.If you’re in the market for luxury goods,try the Little
Switzerland shop at Breedestraat 44 in Punda.
Sports &Recreation
The usual outdoor activities are all available in abundance on
Curaçao.Excellent sunningandswimmingspots include the beaches
at the Curaçao Sea Aquariumand the soon-to-be-described Caracas
Bay.Excellent (and usually less crowded beaches) on the northern
part of the islandare those at Cas Abao,SantaCruz andWest Point.
These can be nicely combined with a trip to the Christoffel National
Park for a day in the outdoors.
For diving and snorkeling,the best spot is the wonderful National
Underwater Park,near Willemstad,beginningjust past the Curaçao
Sea Aquarium.The sights of the several amazing coral reefs (includ
ing one that was started by a man who placed auto bodies fromthe
1940s in the water – nature did the rest) and sunken ships are great
for divers.Even snorkelers will find much is accessible to them.What
makes the Underwater Park different from many sites of its type is
that there are actually marked underwater trails,which can easily be
followed.There are also over a dozen designated diving sites.
The central coast alsohas many dive sites,as does the area near West
Point known as Banda Abou.Here you’ll find almost a half-dozen
places to dive,including some with such fancifully named forma
tions as “Alice in Wonderland” and the “MushroomForest.”
Other popular sports onthe water are fishingandwindsurfing.Cara
cas Bay is a multi-purpose recreational destination on a pretty little
peninsula practically adjacent to the National Underwater Park.
Besides the beach,you can go bicyclingor windsurfingin addition to
snorkeling and diving.Horseback riding is available at Rancho Alfin
inside Christoffel National Park.Other than at Caracas Bay,where
you can arrange for rental equipment or horses on your own,it is
probably best to go the excursion route if you want to arrange activi
ties requiring equipment.
Dominican Republic
Independent republic comprising the eastern portion
of the island of Hispaniola.
Area:18,700 square miles.The maximumdimensions of the Domini-
can Republic are approximately 270 miles fromeast to west and 175
miles fromnorth to south.
National Tourist Office:Dominican Republic Tourist Office,
(305) 444-4592,
The Dominican Republic occupies about two-thirds of the island of
Hispaniola.The island is the second largest in the Caribbean.It is
exceeded only by Cuba.About three-quarters of the country is cov
ered by mountains.The largest mountain range is the Central Cordil
lera,which contains the highest point in the West Indies,the
10,417-foot Pico Duarte.With fertile soils in the valleys and small
coastal plains,the country is largely agricultural,although mining is
also of importance.It was one of the first islands to be encountered
by Columbus and was controlled by Spain until the French were
givensovereignty over the westernthirdof the islandin1697.French
and later Haitian incursions (after the latter became independent in
1804) seized control of the Spanish portion several times during the
early 19th century.The return to tyrannical Spanish rule was short
lived,however,as the Dominican Republic declared its independ
ence in 1821.That didn’t last long either as the Haitians returned a
year later and ruled until their ouster in 1843.The country’s history
has usually beenequally turbulent since then.Economic andpolitical
chaos in the early 20th century finally led to the Dominican Republic
being occupied by American Marines for eight years,beginning in
Dominican Republic
1916.The era of dictator Rafael Trujillo Molina began in 1930 and
endedwithhis assassinationin1961.Since that time,democracy has
beenrestoredonseveral occasions,only tobe interruptedby periods
of military or other dictatorial rule.In the last 10 years,great strides
have been made toward stabilizing democratic institutions,but the
nation still has a long way to go in achieving economic prosperity
that reaches most of its citizens.
La Romana (Casa de Campo)
The city of La Romana (population 175,000) is dominated by the
sugar industry.However,it is becoming increasingly important as a
resort destination because of the fine facilities at Casa de Campo.In
fact,because there is little to see in La Romana itself,some cruise
lines list the port of call as Casa de Campo.The nearby beaches and
reef of Catalina Island are also a reason to visit this area in the south
eastern portion of the Dominican Republic.The main part of town is
located along the Río Salado.
All cruise ships anchor offshore,andpassengers are transferredto La
Romana via tender.
Tourist Information Office
There is no official tourisminformation office.
Getting Around
The sights around La Romana are outside of town itself and are
somewhat scattered.In addition,they aren’t that close to the tender
dock.Rental cars are practically impossible to come by.Although
taxis are available,this is a port where youwill be well advisedtocon
sider guided shore excursions.If you want to spend a little time wan
dering around the city center,the best place to do so is in the area of
the Parque Central.This is also the place to go for regular and shared
One-Day Sightseeing Tour
There are two primary points of interest in the La Romana area.If
your shipis slatedtobe here for the entire day,thenyouwill easily be
able to see both,in either one or two excursions,depending upon
La Romana (Casa de Campo)
how your cruise line has them arranged.The biggest visitor attrac
tion,and the most interesting,is Altos de Chavon,on the heights
above the Chavon River.Re-creating the environment of a
16th-century artisan’s village,the complex is also meant to educate
visitors about Dominican culture.Highlights include the hand-cut
stone church of St.Stanislaus,anarchaeology museum,art galleries,
craft centers and a classic Greek-style amphitheater that can accom
modate 5,000 people.Quaint cobblestone streets link points within
Altos de Chavon.The viewof the river fromthe village is exceptional.
The other mainattractioninthe area is the huge resort community of
Casa de Campo,which covers about 7,000 acres.The resort allows
visitors on guided shore excursions to partake in some of its many
recreational opportunities.See Sports &Recreation for more details.
However,it is also a beautiful place to see and simply stroll around.
Finally,if youare spendingthe full day at LaRomanaandeither of the
above doesn’t appeal to you,it is possible to take local ferries to
Catalina Island.The activities available are similar to those reserved
for cruise ship guests at Catalina’s private beaches.See below for
more on Catalina.
Other Attractions
Everything of local interest to visitors can be seen in the single day
tour as was just described.
High-quality locally made handicrafts are available at Altos de
Chavon.Otherwise,La Romana has the usual souvenir shops.
Sports &Recreation
The list of sports available onlandandinthe water inCasa de Campo
and La Romana is a long one,with the former offering most of the
variety onlandandthe latter specializinginwater activities.Included
in the options are golf,horseback riding,polo,swimming,and ten
nis.Many of these are connected with the resorts at Casa de Campo
and the facilities are often available only to resort guests unless you
have booked a shore excursion,which gives you the right to use
them.So check with your ship’s excursion office to see what you can
do.Golf and horseback riding are the two activities that are almost
always offered.
If your ship is docking at Catalina Island and La Romana is a shore
excursion only,you will probably be better off remaining at the
Dominican Republic
La Romana (Casa de Campo)
islandif your interests lie primarily inswimming,beaches,snorkeling
anddiving.Onthe other hand,if youare dockedat La Romana,there
is regularly scheduled boat service to Catalina Island so you can still
take advantage of these activities,although not on private beaches.
The island’s public beaches are still good.
Santo Domingo
Although not frequently called upon by cruise ships,it can be
reached on a day-trip from the more frequently visited La Romana.
With a rapidly growing population that now stands at around
2,500,000 people (over 3½million in the metropolitan area),Santo
Domingois the largest city inthe Caribbean,exceedingevenHavana.
Being the biggest isn’t its only claim to fame.The capital city was
founded in 1496,which makes it the oldest continually inhabited
European settlement in the entire Western Hemisphere.It occupies
both banks of the Ozama River,which leads out to the fine harbor
and the Caribbean Sea.
Cruise ships callingonSantoDomingodock alongthe wharves of the
Puerto de Santo Domingo.This is within a short distance of the his-
toric city center.However,many visitors are likely toarrive via guided
shore excursions fromport calls to La Romana.You should be aware
that,if your ship calls on La Romana/Catalina Island,you will proba-
bly be required to take a shore excursion if you want to see Santo
Domingo.Even if you dock at La Romana and are allowed to go
aroundonyour own,car rentals are difficult andlocal transportation
isn’t terribly reliable.Youwill be better off takingashore excursion.
Tourist Information Office
Although some information will be available at the port,the city’s
maintourist office is conveniently locatedinthe oldcity opposite the
Parque Colón (Columbus Park) and adjacent to the post office along
the street called Isabel la Católica.
Getting Around
The majority of places tosee are locateda small area onthe west side
of the Ozama River called Colonial Santo Domingo.All of the attrac
tions in the colonial city are close to one another and getting around
Dominican Republic
on foot is the best way to see things.For those attractions outside
the colonial zone,a taxi is the best means of transportation,
although local buses do thoroughly cover all areas of the city.
One-Day Sightseeing Tour
This tour does assume your ship docks at Santo Domingo and that
you will have a full day to see the sights.If you are on excursion from
La Romana/Catalina Island,then you will probably have about four
to five hours to spend in Santo Domingo.Although it is likely that
much of that time will be on a guided tour,most excursions do allow
some time onyour own.If so,try at least tovisit a fewof the places in
this itinerary that are not included on your tour.
The oldest and most interesting part of the city is the Zona Colonial
(Colonial Zone).It was begunin1502andcontains several of the old
est buildings in the Western Hemisphere.The heart of the Zone is the
statue of Columbus in the central square of the Parque Colón.On
the south side of the plaza is the Cathedral of Santo Domingo
(Santa Maria la Menor).It was completed in 1542 and took more
than 30 years to build.It is similar in style to many European cathe-
drals of that era and is notable for its size,considering that Santo
Domingo was then a small settlement.It contains many items of his-
toric and artistic importance in its 15 separate chapels.$.
Ablock southof the Cathedral via Calle ArzobispoMerinois the Casa
del Tostado(alsoknownas the Museumof the DominicanFamily).It
dates fromthe 16th century and has household items reflecting the
nation’s history.Opendaily,except Sunday,from9amto3pm;$.
Two blocks east of the Casa del Tostado via Calle Padre Billini is the
Fortaleza Ozama.Construction of its most notable feature,the
Tower of Homage,began in 1503.It is thus considered to be the old
est fort in the New World.Part of the city’s old walls extend north
fromthe fort along the riverfront boulevard.But it is far more inter
esting to walk north from the fort along the narrow Calle de las
Damas.This quaint street will give you a true feel for the old city.In a
few blocks you’ll reach the Panteón Nacional,where many impor
tant people are buried.The nation’s Unknown Soldier and an eternal
flame are also here.
Just a short distance north of the Panteón is the Museo de las Casas
Reales.This fascinating museum is housed in two former
16th-century palaces and contains a huge collection of historical
items,including considerable treasure recovered fromsunken Span
ish ships.$.
Santo Domingo
A little farther north on Damas is the Plaza de la Hispanidad where
youwill findthe MuseoAlcazar de Colón.Columbus’ sonDiegoand
his descendants lived in this castle-like mansion of 22 rooms.Ori
ginally built in 1514,it has been beautifully restored.The interesting
guided tours can be taken in English.$.Just outside the Alcazar is
one of the city’s original gates.The tour as describedhere will take at
least three hours,but could take as much as five,depending upon
how detailed your visits to some of the museums are.
Not everything of interest is confined to the Zona Colonial.Perhaps
the single most important attraction elsewhere in Santo Domingo is
the Lighthouse to Columbus (El Faro a Colón).This massive struc
ture was built in 1992 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the
discoveries of Columbus.The building itself is notable for its size,
although the exterior is rather ugly.The interior is much nicer and
contains exhibits on Columbus’ voyages.Also here is a large and
ornate tomb that is said to house the remains of Columbus.Many
historians dispute that and believe he is buried in Seville,Spain.
Allow at least an hour for your visit here.Located in the Parque
Mirador del Este,about one mile east of the Zona Colonial via the
Puente Melia (Melia Bridge).Opendaily,except Monday,from10am
until 5 pm;$.
Other Attractions
Duarte Museum:This was formerly the residence of Juan
Duarte.The house contains many possessions of the most
important family in Dominican history.308 Calle Isabel la
Católica (Zona Colonial).Open daily,except Sunday;closes
at noon on Saturday;$.
Independence Park:Situated on the extreme western edge
of the Zona Colonial at the end of El Conde,the park con
tains one of the city’s original gates as well as the white mar
ble Altar of the Nation,a mausoleum.
Plaza de la Cultura:Contains several museums and galler
ies (art,history,geography,natural history),as well as a the
ater andlibrary.This is inthe newpart of the city at Avenidas
MexicoandMaximoGomez.Opendaily,except Monday.In
dividual museum admissions vary from $-$$$.
Outside the City Center:The Park of the Three Eyes of
Water (caves);the National Botanical Gardens;and the
National Zoological Park are all worthwhile.It is best to
reach each of these by taxi.
Dominican Republic
The primary shopping area is on the pedestrian-only El Conde,which
begins on the north side of the Parque Colón and extends westward
for about a half-mile.There are also many shops along Calle
Arzobispo Merino,especially just south of its intersection with El
Conde.Art galleries and gift shops dominate the choices.The most
sought-after merchandise are items made of amber and larimar.The
former is a resin fossil material that has qualities similar to a gem
stone and is often used in jewelry.Larimar is a light blue stone that is
much like turquoise.Unless you are familiar with these items,you
will be better off shopping for them in the more expensive stores
rather than souvenir shops,where their authenticity may be ques
Sports &Recreation
Many of the Dominican Republic’s resort areas have a good assort-
ment of recreational activities.However,that is not the case in Santo
Domingo,where people come to absorb history and culture more
than the sun and sea.The beaches nearest to Santo Domingo are
usually packed with locals and they are far fromthe cleanest in the
country.The nearest really good beaches are about 20 miles to the
east inBocaChica.Goodsnorkelinganddivingopportunities are also
available there.The coral reef also provides a shelter for water skiing
and sailing.If your ship doesn’t offer any excursions to Boca Chica
youcanget there by bus or rental car.The roads are goodall the way.
This large island is part of the Dominican Republic and is located
off-shore from the resort area of La Romana.Although the island
isn’t exclusively operated for cruise ship passengers (transportation
is available fromLa Romana),it is large enough so that a section of it
is the private domain of Celebrity Cruises and Costa Cruises.The
schedules are such that both never use it at the same time.Celebrity
guests can take optional excursions to La Romana,but if you’re trav
eling on Costa then you have to decide whether it’s a full day on the
island or a full day on the mainland via organized excursion.The
island itself is much like those in the Bahamas and the program of
activities,fromwater sports to the barbecue,is also similar.Selected
itineraries fromboth lines stop here.
See the cost chart for shore activities onpage 117.
Dominican Republic
Less-Visited Ports
Puerto Plata
On the country’s northern shore,the “Silver Port” is named for the
silvery mist that clings tothe nearby mountains inthe late afternoon.
Once a flourishing commercial center,the city of 130,000 is today
increasingly reliant on tourism.The city has a quaint old world feel
and touring it by horse-drawn carriage is a most pleasant way to see
the sights.The Fort of San Felipe has dominated the harbor since
1520 and can be visited.To the east and west are beautiful beaches
and growing resort areas.The nearby interior is mountainous,with
some peaks rising as high as 4,000 feet.However,the undisputed
best viewis fromatop2,560-foot Mount Isabel de Torres.The sum
mit is reached by cable car.Also at the top are a statue of “Christ the
Redeemer” and beautiful gardens and paths.
State Tourist Office:
(888) 735-2872,
The Florida Keys are a chainof small islands that separate the Strait of
Florida fromFlorida Bay.Although most people think of the Keys as
the approximately 110-mile long stretch of the Overseas Highway
that connects Key LargowithKey West,the chainactually begins just
south of Miami and then continues past Key West all the way to the
10 small islands of the Dry Tortugas.This is a total distance of about
225 miles.
Key West
Locatedona small island(“key,” fromthe Spanishwordcayo,which,
in turn,is probably of Arawak Indian derivation) of the same name,
Key West has the distinction of being the most southerly city in the
United States.Although fishing and the US Navy and Coast Guard
provide much of the economic activity,Key West is definitely ori
entedtotourism.Inadditiontoattractingplenty of visitors,Key West
has always been a magnet for people with alternative lifestyles of all
kinds.To this day it remains an active artists’ colony.Not doing
things the way everyone else does themis part of the fascination of
life inthe ConchRepublic,the name that was giventoa self-declared
independent nation of Key West that never really existed.However,
Less-Visited Ports
even today you can still buy Conch Republic flags!The city of 26,000
has an almost foreign atmosphere,and that is a big part of its popu
larity.During the winter the population almost doubles with the
arrival of snowbirds.It’s usually easy to differentiate themfromthe
Ships dock at the end of the US Coast Guard pier about a mile from
the heart of town.However,free shuttle service is provided on the
famous “Conch Tour Trains” (more about that later).The pier can
only accommodate one ship,or possibly two smaller vessels,but you
shouldn’t have to use a tender since it is unlikely that more than one
ship will be in Key West at the same time.
Tourist Information Office
Key West Welcome Center,3840 N.Roosevelt Blvd., (800)
284-4482.This office is located at the eastern end of the island
because that is where people driving to Key West first come onto the
island.Cruise ship visitors usually don’t get out that way unless
they’re passing by on the Conch Tour,so you should make inquiries
at the Chamber of Commerce office next tothe OldTowntrolley tour
ticket office in Mallory Square.
Getting Around
Since most of the main points of interest are within a small area,it is
easy to conduct your entire visit on foot.Once you have been left off
at Mallory Square,you’ll be at the foot of Duval Street.This is the
mainstreet throughtown.Onthe other hand,the ConchTour Train,
a vehicle resembling a small locomotive engine pulling several
amusement-park-like open-air cars,is probably the most popular
means of transportation in Key West.It is an attraction in and of
itself.The most convenient Tour Train depots are at Mallory Square.
Passengers may get on and off at any of nine different stops,
covering most of the important points of interest in Key West.All the
rest are within a fewminutes walk.Similar to the Conch Train is the
Old Town Trolley Tour,also departing fromthe same general area.
All attractions visited by these tours will be indicated in the One-Day
Sightseeing Tour by the notation “T.” Both train and trolley operate
daily at half-hour intervals.The complete circuit (without stops)
takes about 90 minutes.$$$.
Key West
There is absolutely no need to take guided shore excursions offered
by the cruise line unless you plan on going to other nearby destina
tions to fish or swim,or unless you want to see the Dry Tortugas (see
the Other Attractions section,page 200,for details).
One-Day Sightseeing Tour
Since you will be dropped off at Mallory Square (T) this is a good
place to begin your tour.The heart of Key West,Mallory Square is a
bustling area of shops and attractions with a colorful and lively
atmosphere.One of the more interesting places to visit here is the
Key West Shipwreck Historeum&Museum(T).Although there are
exhibits about the many ships lost inthe 19thcentury inthe treacher
ous waters of the Florida Straits,the best part of this “museum” is
the living history show.Actors play the crew of a successful
“wrecker’s warehouse” (a business devoted to salvaging cargo from
wrecked ships and getting a share of what is found).Visitors are
“recruited” to become crew members.The cast is enthusiastic and
realistic.It’s also very informative.Your visit ends with the opportu-
nity to climb to the top of one of the last remaining lookout towers
once used to spot shipwrecks.The views are excellent.Allow about
45 minutes to one hour for your visit.1 Whitehead Street.Shows
daily every half-hour from 9:45 am.$$.
Across the street is the Key West Aquarium(T).With more than 200
species of fish,this makes an interesting stop if you have children,
though adults might find it less than world-class.Allow about a
half-hour;an hour if you take the tour.Daily.For a better visit,take
one of the tours (11 am,1 pmor 3 pm),which includes fish feedings.
You can finish up the sights of Mallory Square by visiting the Key
West Museum of Art & History (T) housed in the former Custom
House at 281 Front Street.$$.
FromMallory Square,proceeddownDuval Street.AlongDuval you’ll
find plenty of shops to browse,but more about that later.A stroll
down Duval is also interesting froman architectural standpoint.On
the way you’ll pass the historic “oldest house” at 322 Duval and St.
Paul’s Episcopal Church.When you get to Olivia Street turn right
andgoone block toWhiteheadStreet andthe LighthouseMuseum,
938 Whitehead Street (T).Perhaps what is most surprising about the
1847 lighthouse is its location.Most people expect it to be right by
the water’s edge,but it sits in the middle of town a fewblocks away
fromthe waterfront.However,in the days when it provided a safety
beacon for navigators it didn’t matter that it was a little inland
because it was much higher than any of the surrounding buildings.
Across the street is one of Key West’s most famous attractions – the
Ernest Hemingway Home &Museum,907 Whitehead Street (T).It
is a large Spanish colonial mansion constructedin 1851.Hemingway
acquired it in 1931.He wrote several of his most famous works here.
The house is still occupied today,although not by people – more
than four dozen cats,all direct descendants of Hemingway’s pet
cats,roamthe extensive gardens,which were planted by the author.
The entire place is rather eclectic,which one would expect given
Hemingway’s often eccentric nature.It should take you at least 30
minutes to visit the property.$$.
Continue down Whitehead for about six blocks.At the end is the
Southernmost Point in America (T).Only 90 miles from Cuba,the
multi-colored barrel-shaped monument is not a thing of beauty but
it’s almost a mandatory picture stop when in town.Adjacent is the
Southernmost House.Then head back up Whitehead as far as
Southard Street and turn to the left.In a fewblocks you’ll reach the
Truman Annex,an area of town that was once occupied by the
Naval Station(whichhas nowshrunkenconsiderably).It is a pleasant
series of tree-linedresidential blocks.The first point of interest is Fort
Zachary Taylor State Historic Site,which is at the foot of Southard.
Besides having a beach and other recreational areas,the park con-
tains a large section of the fort’s original walls and a number of Civil
War area cannons and other weapons.Allow about a half-hour for
the historic portion of the site.$.
Then return on Southard to Emma Street and turn left.This runs into
Front Street,where you’ll soon encounter the main point of interest
in the Truman Annex.The so-called Little White House is a dignified
two-story white edifice sitting on well-kept grounds.It once
afforded views of the sea.Originally the residence of the base com
mander,it was suggested as a place where President Truman could
recuperate froman illness.He liked it so much that he returned here
on many occasions during the course of his presidency.The house
has been left almost exactly as it appeared on Truman’s last visit and
contains many interesting original pieces.Informative tours lasting
approximately one hour are given by enthusiastic guides,who pro
vide insights about the house and relate anecdotes about Mr.&Mrs.
Truman.111 Front Street.Daily tours generally onthe hour.Gardens
may be visited on your own.$$$.
Turn to the left as you leave the Little White House and you will soon
return to Mallory Square and the end of your tour,where you can
board the transportation back to your ship.If you took the Conch
Tour Train,you’ll have seen some of the sights at the eastern end of
One-Day Sightseeing Tour
the Key as well.These include the East andWest MartelloForts,the
small remains of asystemof fortifications built todefendKey West.
Other Attractions
Audubon House & Tropical Gardens:This is the home
where the famous naturalist stayed in Key West while he
was painting the fauna of the Keys.The home contains
many furnishings and artifacts fromthe 18th and 19th cen
turies,some of whichbelongedtoone of Key West’s famous
wreckers.Works by Audubon are also on display.The house
is surroundedby beautiful gardens.Youshouldallowa min
imumof 45minutes for visiting.205WhiteheadStreet.$$.
Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Odditorium:With the usual col
lection of things found in these types of establishments all
over the country,this isn’t the greatest attraction in town
(especially given the price),but it does provide a good break
for kids after more adult-oriented points of interest like the
Truman White House and Hemingway’s home.527 Duval
Boat tours are a popular activity inKey West.Numerous op-
erators can take you even farther west fromKey West to the
Dry Tortugas.The islands do not have any permanent resi-
dents.Long home to a federal bird sanctuary and a marine
science station,they have been established as the Dry
Tortugas National Park.These seven small islands are
about 70 miles fromKey West.The isolated keys are wildlife
preserves and are home to many species of migratory birds,
as well as sea turtles (from which the islands get their
name).Also located here is Fort Jefferson National Monu
ment.Constructionof the fort beganin1864andwas never
fully completed.However,visitors can see the thick walls
and many of the almost 450 gun emplacements.More re
cently,Fort Jefferson was used as a prison.It became a na
tional monument in 1935.
There are also many short and long boat tours that explore
the waters around Key West itself.Among the operators
(some of which are likely to be the ones used in cruise
line-sponsored shore excursions) are Yankee Fleet,(800)
634-0939;Key West Sailing Adventures, (866)
588-2687;and Fury Catamarans, (305) 294-8899.You
can also check out the central reservations services provided
at www.gothekeys.comor call themat (888) 362-3474.
For many visitors to Key West the wonderful shopping is almost rea
son enough to come here.Certainly,the nature of the shopping is
more unusual thaninmost parts of the UnitedStates.But thenagain
it isn’t entirely clear if Key West is psychologically a part of the United
States!There are a lot of the usual tourist-oriented shops in the
Mallory Square area,but Key West’s main shopping district is con
centrated along Duval Street,from Front through Eaton Streets.
While you can probably buy just about anything fromsoup to nuts,
among the items that are most popular with visitors are tropical
fashions,original works of art,and “Conch Republic” memorabilia.
The most noteworthy shop in the latter category is the Official
Conch Republic Store,with two locations (1 Duval Street and 817
Duval Street).For unusual art pieces try the Butterfly Gallery,
1108-C Duval Street.
Sports &Recreation
The best beaches in the area aren’t on Key West itself and,therefore,
this doesn’t make the best port call for sun and sand lovers.You
could try the beach at Fort Zachary Taylor Historic Site or sign up for
an excursion that goes to beaches farther afield.The most popular
sports are fishing,scuba diving and snorkeling.All of the operators
mentioned under boat tours will also arrange trips for these
activities.However,once again,your cruise line will alsooffer a num-
ber of recreation tours.
Labadee Island
There was a time in the early days of Caribbean cruising that Haiti
was considered a prime destination.However,because of the insta
bility of Haiti’s political situation,and the abject poverty here,it has
been some time since any cruise ships have called upon the national
capital of Port-au-Prince or any other part of the country.I am not
aware of plans to resume such visits anytime soon.Thus,the only
place in Haiti that you can cruise to is a private island,which is
untouched by the nation’s problems.You will find a good number of
itineraries fromRoyal Caribbeanthat call onthis lovely private island.
In order to avoid the negative connotations associated with Haiti,
Labadee Island
their brochure refers to its location as Hispaniola – the name of the
island that comprises Haiti and the Dominican Republic.It is essen
tially a carbon copy of the other private islands that have been
described above.
Independent parliamentary nation;member of the
British Commonwealth.
Area:4,245 square miles.The island is 146 miles long and
about 50 miles wide.
National Tourist Office:Jamaica Tourist Board,
(212) 856-9727,
The third largest island of the West Indies,Jamaica is mountainous,
except for a very narrow area along the coast,especially the south.
Blue MountainPeak,part of a range of the same name,is the highest
point on the island,reaching an altitude of over 7,400 feet.Copious
amounts of rain have made the terrain as lush as it is high and also
result in the many rushing rivers and waterfalls that delight visitors.
Jamaica was discovered during the second voyage of Columbus and
a Spanishcolony was establishedas early as 1509.It was takenby the
English in 1655,and the development of sugar plantations,which
had been slow under Spain,accelerated rapidly.The island quickly
became the largest slave trading market in the Western Hemisphere
until slavery was abolishedin1838.Jamaica became anindependent
nation in 1962.Since that time the government has swung back and
forth between right and left.The resulting instability and changes of
policy have not had a good effect on the economy or standard of liv
Although not frequently called upon by the cruise ships,it can be
reached on a day-trip fromthe more frequently visited port of Ocho
Rios.The distance is about 60 miles.
With more than 660,000 people,the national capital of Kingston is
Jamaica’s largest city andits cultural andeconomic hub.The city was
founded in 1692 to replace nearby Port Royal,which had been
destroyed by an earthquake.Kingston itself was heavily damaged by
an earthquake in 1907.Picturesquely situated at the base of the Blue
Mountains,Kingston has one of the finest natural harbors in the
Caribbean.It is protected fromthe sea by the Palisades,a long sand
spit that extends along the south side of the harbor.While it is still a
major commercial port,the more heavily developed resort cities on
the north shore of Jamaica have long replaced Kingston as the
island’s premier tourismdestination.Yet,a visit to Kingston with its
many attractions can be worthwhile.
Kingston does not have a particular “port” for cruise ships.
Depending upon when the ship arrives and its size,it may be
assigned to any number of berths in the city’s large harbor.Arrange
ments are made to have transportation available into the city center.
Most cruise ships that do call on Kingston are fromEuropean lines,
rather than the major American carriers.
Tourist Information Office
The main office of the Jamaica Tourist Board is at 2 St.Lucia Avenue,
north of downtown.Although large,it is of limited use.Given its
location,you’re better off using the branch office downtown at the
intersection of Port Royal and Duke Streets.
Getting Around
Downtown Kingston can be explored on foot.Many attractions are,
however,well away fromthe center and you will be best served by
using taxis to get fromone place to another.Kingston has an exten
sive bus systemwithmany newbuses and“smart” fare cards,but the
city is large and a little confusing,so you shouldn’t rely on buses.For
attractions that are farther afield,either a car or guided shore excur
sion is recommended.Taxis for these more out-of-the-way places
can become quite expensive.
Jamaica does have a crime problemand it is at its worst in Kingston.
So,if you are on your own,stay on the main tourist paths,as
describedinthe sightseeingsectionbelow.This is alsogoodadvice in
other parts of Jamaica,but is especially important in Kingston.
Local car rental agency:Island Car Rental, (876)
See the cost chart for shore activities onpage 117.
One-Day Sightseeing Tour
Aday-long port call in Kingston can quickly be filled up in a variety of
ways,with tours of downtown,other parts of the city,and attrac
tions in outlying areas.You could theoretically devote a day to each,
but,since you don’t have that kind of time,this suggested itinerary
takes a little fromeach.
Begindowntownalongside KingstonHarbour onOceanDrive.At the
western end is Kingston’s large Craft Market.Built in 1872,the steel
structure is not at all attractive,but it is a great place to browse or
shop for straw items and other local crafts.Open daily except
Continuing along Ocean Drive,you’ll soon come to the National
Gallery,Jamaica’s premier museum.The main entrance has a large
statue of Bob Marley.The museum’s many rooms offer a detailed
look at the artistic history and culture of the island.Open Monday
throughFriday from10amuntil 4:30pm(until 4pmonFriday).$.
At the intersectionof OceanandKingStreet is a replica of the famous
NegroArousedStatue(the original is inthe National Gallery).It rep-
resents the struggle for freedomfromslavery.One block farther east,
is the large,modern Jamaica Conference Centre.The interior décor
features elements of native crafts and design,such as extensive use
of wicker.There are tours,but just poking around on your own for a
short time is all that is necessary,unless you’re really into architec-
tural design.The center alsohas excellent views of the harbor.Onthe
next block of OceanDrive is the Jamaica Bank Building,whichhouses
the small but fairly interesting Museumof Coins and Notes.It doc
uments the history of money in Jamaica.Open Monday through Fri
day from 9 am to 4 pm.
Backtrack toward the west on Ocean Drive as far as King Street and
turn away from the waterfront.As you walk up toward the area
known as the Parade,you will pass many distinguished old buildings
with fine verandas and classical columns.It makes for a pleasant
stroll on what may be Kingston’s loveliest street.The Parade is the
name of the four streets that surround WilliamGrant Park.This is
one of the busiest areas in Kingston and has a great deal of charm,
despite the hustle and bustle.On the south side of the park is the
all-white Kingston Parish Church,which was originally constructed
in 1699.It was rebuilt after the devastating earthquake of 1907.This
concludes the downtown tour and should have taken between two
and three hours,depending upon how much time you spent at the
National Gallery.
New Kingston
To A3
To Cross Roads
& Downtown
To Hope Botanical
Gardens & UWI
Bob Marley
Post Office
New Kingston Mall
Fromdowntown,take a cab to the BobMarley Museum.(If driving,
head north on Orange Street into Halfway Tree Road until you reach
Hope Roadandthenturnright.) Perhaps Jamaica’s most famous son,
the reggae singer is still revered in this island nation.The extensive
exhibits in his former home,as well as memorabilia and other infor
mation,will informyou about his music and religion as well as give
yousome sense as tohis standingamongthe Jamaicanpeople.There
are guided tours.Allow about an hour for your visit.Open daily,
except Sunday,until 4 pm.$$$.
Several miles farther along Hope Road are the Hope Botanical Gar
dens.These large gardens also have a zoo and a still-working stone
aqueduct usedonthe sugar plantationthat once occupiedthe site of
the gardens.There are many different types of gardens,ranging
fromorchids tocactus,andit is a beautiful place towalk around.The
zoowill,of course,interest children,but adults will findit overpriced,
considering the size and presentation of the animal collection.Allow
about an hour for the gardens and an equal amount for the zoo if
you intend to visit that part.$$$$ for zoo only.
Some 20 miles north of Kingston via the A3 highway are the
Castleton Botanic Gardens.The gardens are considerably smaller
than the Hope Gardens,but the tropical spice and fruit trees are of
interest.Visitors alsoenjoy coolingoff fromthe heat andhumidity by
taking a swim in the Wag Water River that traverses the gardens.
Allow about 90 minutes for an excursion to Castleton,exclusive of
any swimming time.
Other Attractions
Blue Mountains & John Crow Mountains National Park:
See Port Antonio for details.
National Heroes Park:Covering a large area just to the
north of downtown Kingston,the park has many monu
ments commemorating people who were important in the
history of Jamaica.
Devon House:This is a plantation-style house,although it
was built in 1881 and was never actually part of a planta
tion.Nonetheless,it is so typical of the genre that the man
sion has been acquired by the Jamaican government as a
way of letting visitors get a feel for plantation architecture.
In addition,the house is now used as a gallery for some of
the best works of Jamaicancraftspeople.Many items are for
sale.There are also lovely landscaped grounds to explore.
Give yourself about 45 minutes minimum.This makes a
good stop if you’re in the vicinity of the Bob Marley Mu
seum.Hope and Waterloo Roads,near the Bob Marley Mu
seum.Daily except Sunday.$.
A nice excursion of about four hours (including round-trip
travel time) can be made westbound from Kingston along
the A1 highway to Spanish Town.The original settlement
was founded in 1534,but the current town dates fromthe
British era,which began in 1655.At one time Spanish Town
was the capital of Jamaica.The first attraction is three miles
east of town.The Taino Museumcovers several acres and
displays artifacts of and exhibits about the Taino Indians,
who occupied the island at the time of the Spanish arrival.
Open Monday through Friday from10 amto 5 pm(till 4 pm
on Friday);$.
InSpanishTownheadfor the mainsquare,whichcontains a
monument toBritishadmiral George Rodney,whodefeated
the French in an important sea battle.On the west side of
the square is the People’s Museumof Crafts and Technol-
ogy,which was originally constructed in 1802 and for a
time servedas the residence of the Britishgovernor.Today it
houses a large collection of Jamaican antiquities.Same
hours as Taino Museum;$.Nearby is the splendid Cathe-
dral Of St.James (Barrett and Church Streets).The current
structure dates from 1660 and is the oldest cathedral in
what was the British Caribbean empire.Many historic per-
sons are buried in the crypt.Finally,take a short ride to the
Old Harbour to see the ruins of the 17th-century Colbeck
Castle.The walls are over 100feet highandthere are towers
at each of the corners.
Most people know that Jamaica is a great place for shopping,
although many,assuming that the resort towns are the best places
to shop,may not realize that Kingston is among the top choices.
Jamaica has duty-free ports,which means that all sorts of goods
fromaround the world are often good buys.Included in this list are
jewelry,perfumes,liquor,silver and crystal.Colorful and casual
Jamaican-made resort wear is also a popular choice for shoppers.
When it comes to local handicrafts,look for intricately carved
mahogany,dolls,straw products,pottery and batik fashions.In
many places throughout Jamaica you’ll encounter roadside vendors.
While I don’t usually recommend this sort of shopping,it is accepted
in Jamaica andthe quality of goods andprices are attractive.The sin
gle best place toshopinKingston,however,is the Craft Market near
the waterfront.Most of the other shopping is in the hotel district of
New Kingston,which is not particularly convenient for cruise ship
Sports &Recreation
There are numerous beaches to the east and west of downtown
Kingston.Both black sand and white sand beaches can be found.
Amongthe better beaches are Lime Cay,MaidenCay andFort Clar
ence Beaches.Hellshire Beach is not quite as nice but is closer.The
proximity of Kingston to various resort destinations means that you
can find other water sports,but these aren’t as convenient for visi
tors here as in the other Jamaican ports.
Montego Bay
The number of cruise ships calling upon Montego Bay is somewhat
less than at Ocho Rios.However,since the distance between themis
only 50 miles,travelers who want to see Montego Bay can use Ocho
Rios as a gateway.
One of Jamaica’s oldest settlements,“MoBay” as it is generally
known locally,was a thriving commercial center long before it first
began to develop as a tourismdestination around the beginning of
the 20th century.With almost 100,000 residents,Montego Bay is a
bustling place.As a resort it occupies a prime stretch of coast with
fine beaches and water sports available in both directions.
The Montego Bay Freeport is an excellent facility where several large
vessels can dock at the same time.It is not walking distance to the
city center,but a moderately priced shuttle service is available.In
addition,government-approved taxis are always present to meet
arriving ships.
Tourist Information Office
The Jamaica Tourist Board has several offices,including one at Sam
Sharpe Square in the town center;at the Craft Market (also down
town at Market and Harbour Streets);and on Gloucester Avenue at
the popular Cornwall Beach.
Montego Bay
Doctor's Cave Beach,
White Sands PO
To Rose Hall
& Falmouth
Montego Bay
Cornwall Beach
(Jamaica Tourist Board)
1 KM
Walter Fletcher Beach
Craft Market
Jarrett Park
To Lucea
& Negril
Getting Around
Montego Bay is a nice place to explore on foot as everything in town
is within a distance of about 1½ miles.When walking around
Montego Bay,expect to be approached by many people selling
goods,offering guide service and otherwise looking to separate you
from your money.Just politely say “no.” Should you tire of foot
power,there are plenty of taxis available.The out-of-town attrac
tions aren’t as numerous as in some of the other ports and they are
also relatively close,so a taxi should be sufficient.However,if you
intend to explore farther afield,then renting a car will make sense
from both a financial and convenience standpoint.The main route
through town is the A1 highway (known as Barnett Street to the
south of town and as The Queen’s Drive north of town).
Local car rental agency:Island Car Rental, (876)
One-Day Sightseeing Tour
As with many other ports,your call here can be divided between the
in-town portion and those attractions outside of town.We’ll begin
with exploring the streets of Montego Bay and the best place to start
is in the heart of the city at Sam Sharpe Square.The attractive
square is named for the leader of an 1831 slave rebellion.Although
the uprising was crushed (and Sharpe was hanged in this very
square),it did directly lead to the abolition of slavery two years later.
Today,the square has many statues and memorials,not only to
Sharpe,but to other important people and events in Jamaican his
tory.A slave “cage” is also on display.Spend some time wandering
the streets around the square and you will encounter old churches
and good examples of colonial architecture.
At Church and King Streets is the especially notable St.James Parish
Church,datingfromthe late 18thcentury.It was heavily damagedin
anearthquake in1957andhadtobe largely rebuilt.This is one of the
finest churches in the Caribbean,so be sure to go inside and have a
look at the ornate marble work and the stained glass.
Montego Bay has many shopping areas but,from a strictly touring
point of view,the only one of great interest is the long Craft Market
on Howard Cooke Drive near the waterfront.
Another interesting little walk is alongside The Creek at the south
end of downtown via a street of the same name.At the eastern end
of Creek Street is the Creek Dome,a multi-sided structure built
above a natural spring that supplied water to the settlement.Just
Montego Bay
north of the Dome on Dome Street is the Dome House.Although
this former plantation house nowserves as an entertainment venue,
it still is a fine example of a classical plantation home.It’s worth see
ing for the architecture and,if it’s open,you can go in and see por
tions of the rather lavish interior.On the opposite side of downtown
along Gloucester Street (by the waterfront) are the ruins of Fort
Montego.Little remains of the 18th-century fort,so only the true
historian may be interested.
The preceding tour route should take about two hours,exclusive of
any time spent shopping.
There are two excellent plantation house tours that are close by.If
your schedule is tight because you plan on doing lots of shopping or
sports,youcansave some time by doingonly one.However,bothare
interesting places to visit and they are quite different.They’re also
quite close to one another.The first one you will come upon is the
Rose Hall Great House,which is about seven miles east of town
along the main A1 highway.This plantation house dates from the
18thcentury andhas beennicely restored.It is namedfor the original
owner’s wife and she has quite a reputation in Jamaica for having
had numerous slaves as lovers.One of them eventually murdered
her.Interesting tours take place at regular intervals and you’ll hear
about the history and legends surrounding the property.That
includes not only the aforementioned mistress of the house but
another woman known as the White Witch of Rose Hall.The house is
supposedly haunted.Tours take approximately 30 minutes.$$$.
Afewmiles farther east onthe A1is the beautiful GreenwoodGreat
House.Built in 1790 by the wealthy Barrett family (who had already
made a fortune in the sugar plantation business),the estate once
extended for 12 miles,all the way to the neighboring town of Fal
mouth.Today,the house is a veritable museum of furniture and
antiques.Especially notable is the collection of Wedgwood china
that was made especially for the Barretts.There are also lovely gar
dens andextensive grounds overlookingthe sea.Youshouldallowat
least an hour for the tour and exploring the grounds on your own.
$$$.Including round-trip travel time fromMontego Bay,this excur
sion should take you about 3½hours.
Other Attractions
Rafting on the Martha Brae:Approximately 3½ miles
south of the town of Falmouth (which is a short ride east
fromMontego Bay),up to two adults and one child can em
bark on a leisurely journey on the Martha Brae River aboard
30-foot-long bamboo rafts.This is not only a relaxing break
from a hectic day of sightseeing,but is a good way to see
some very nice scenery at the same time.The triplasts a little
over an hour.Last departure at 4:30 pm.$$$$.
Rockland’s Feeding Station:A large number of bird spe
cies can be seen at this spot.The best time to be there is at
3:30 pmwhen the birds are fed.Visitors are allowed to feed
them as well.Located in Anchovy,five miles southwest of
Montego Bay via Highway B8.Daily from 2 to 5 pm.$$.
Even if you aren’t interested in swimming,you might wish
to explore the beaches and resorts in the hotel area along
Gloucester Avenue,whichbegins almost immediately tothe
northof Fort Montegoandextends for just under amile.The
well-known Sandals all-inclusive resorts have three proper
ties in Montego Bay.
Cockpit Country:This mountainous region southeast of
Montego Bay is the home of the direct descendents of the
Maroons,slaves who established their own villages in the
difficult terrain after having been freed by the Spaniards.
They fought the British for many years and were never to-
tally subdued.If you take a drive through this region,it is a
good idea to have 4WD and to get a good map from the
tourist office.
Some 40 miles west of Montego Bay via the A1 is the town
of Negril.A small and laid-back resort at Jamaica’s western
tip,Negril makes a nice excursion for those who want to es
cape fromthe busier atmosphere of Montego Bay.There is
nice scenery,including many rocky cliffs.These are popular
vantage points for viewing the spectacular sunsets,but it is
unlikely that sunset viewing will fit into the time schedule of
your port call.Nonetheless,the 1¼-hour drive to Negril
(each way) may be for you if you want to spend a secluded
day on the beach.
The list of goods,both international and Jamaican-made,is pretty
much the same in all of the Jamaican ports.Therefore,you can refer
back to the Kingston shopping section.The Craft Market (same
name as the one in Kingston but a different place) is the best choice
for purchasing locally made items.
Montego Bay
Sports &Recreation
There are many excellent beaches in and around Montego Bay.The
closest to town is the Walter Fletcher Beach (just north of Fort
Montego),but the best stretches of sand are a little farther north in
the resort corridor alongGloucester Avenue.Doctor’s Cave Beachis
probably the best (and the most crowded),but Cornwall Beach,
about a quarter-mile farther north,will also do nicely.Beyond
Cornwall,there will be even fewer people.Chatham Beach and
DeadEndBeach(situatedat the very tipof a small peninsula) are the
twolikely candidates inthis area.Popular water sports are snorkeling
and diving,as well as all kinds of fishing.
Ocho Rios
This is the most popular of Jamaica’s ports – withgoodreason.There
are many interesting places to see and things to do.In addition,
because of its more central location on the island,Ocho Rios makes a
better jumping-off point for seeingother parts of Jamaica.OchoRios
is a small town (about 9,000 residents),compared to Montego Bay
and especially to Kingston.There is some debate about the town’s
name.Ocho Rios is Spanish for eight rivers.There are,indeed,many
rivers in the area,but it is believed that the name was incorrectly
derived froma corruption of the name that the original inhabitants
With the town set around a broad harbor,the largest ships can be
accommodated at Ocho Rios’ pier.There are actually two piers
within a short distance of one another.The main pier is close to a
small shopping center,although both are about a mile from the
mainpart of town.Taxis are available right outside the pier complex.
Tourist Information Office
The Jamaica Tourist Board has an office at 7 Ocean Village Plaza,on
Main Street,about a half-mile fromthe main cruise ship dock.
Getting Around
Few attractions (and none of the most important ones) are within
walking distance of the piers.Taxi is the best way to get from one
place to another.You can hire a cab to take you on a full-day excur
sion.The driver will either wait for you or arrange a time to pick you
up and move on to the next place.This will usually be around the
same price or even cheaper than renting a car.However,should you
decide to get your own set of wheels,car rental agencies are in the
center of town.Guided shore excursions within the Ocho Rios area
won’t take you anywhere that you can’t get to by taxi,so I don’t rec
ommend themif you want to save money.
Local car rental agencies:Jamaica Car Rental, (876)
974-2505;Island Car Rental, (876) 974-2334.
Ocho Rios
One-Day Sightseeing Tour
There are a half-dozen worthwhile places to see in and around Ocho
Rios,but most people find they only have the time to do three or
four,depending upon their pace.The three best attractions are the
Dunn’s River Falls,either the Coyaba River Gardens or the Enchanted
Garden,and Prospect Plantation,so our one-day tour will include
those,plus abrief visit tothe FernGully,whichis where we’ll begin.
The Fern Gully is a narrow gorge filled with all manner of tropical
foliage.Sothick is the coverage that it is hardfor the suntopenetrate
to the bottom.It begins about 1½miles south of town along Route
A3andthe narrow,windingroadruns for approximately three miles.
There are few places to pull off and they’re hard to find,so you’ll
probably get more out of your visit if you take a taxi tour through it.
Your visit here will not take more than a half-hour.
Reversing your route past the dock and then heading west for three
miles on Route A3,you’ll soon reach the Dunn’s River Falls,perhaps
Jamaica’s number one visitor attraction.Here the river travels
through a lush jungle-like area as it falls a total height of 600 feet via
a series of cascades over smoothly wornrocks onits way tothe Carib-
bean Sea.A series of stairs,ramps and paved walkways parallels the
falls and offers many good vantage points.On the way up,you have
two options.The first is just to reverse your route on the path.The
other is to climb the falls (there are several places where you can exit
if it gets tootoughfor you).Local guides will assist youinmakingthe
climb,although some people venture up on their own.This is an
exciting experience,but you will get wet,so dress accordingly (lock
ers are available).For the less actively inclined visitor,just watching
the climbers fromvarious vantage points onthe pathis as interesting
as the beautiful setting.Allowabout 45 minutes to visit the site but
up to 1½hours if you will be climbing the falls.Closes at 4 pm.$$.
Additional costs could include tips for guides and rental of special
climbing “shoes,” which are more like booties and help you get
better traction on the slick rocks.Dunn’s River Falls is being con
verted into a Jamaican national park,which will mean an upgrade in
ancillary services.This will include a more organized approach to the
dozens of vendors who will zealously try to sell you something on
your way out of the area.
As you approach the town on your way back,you have a choice to
make.The two attractions to be described are similar in nature and
both are extremely beautiful places.They each merit a visit,but on a
day-visit,given all the other things to see in the Ocho Rios area,
something has to give.The A1 and A3 highways converge near the
west side of town.Using the A3 to Milford Road will bring you to the
Ocho Rios
sumptuous Coyaba River Gardens & Museum.This tropical para
dise atopa hill is a fairy-tale walk throughcolorful flowers,cedar and
banyan trees,a rock garden,ponds,gazebos and along the Coyaba
River itself.Two other features of the complex are the museum of
Jamaican history,beginning with Pre-Colombian artifacts,and a
lookout tower,fromwhichyou’ll have a gorgeous viewof OchoRios.
A visit to the gardens will take at least an hour and possibly as much
as 90 minutes.$.
Alternatively,fromthe Route A1 take EdenBower Road,thenfollow
ing signs for the beautiful Enchanted Garden.Located on a private
estate that is nowa small but luxurious resort,the gardens cover 20
acres.Since it is on a fairly steep mountainside there are 14 different
waterfalls,many of whichare quite dramatic.Infact,twoof the falls’
names tell the story – the Ooh Falls and Aah Falls.And you will ooh
and aah!Besides this great scenery,your visit will take you through
lovely landscaped grounds and a walk-in aviary,with many tropical
and exotic species of birds.Alounge at the end of the tour has a vari-
ety of fish tanks displaying native species.Visits to the garden are by
guidedtour only.This takes about 45minutes toanhour (depending
upon the number of people),but you can also spend up to an addi-
tional half-hour in areas where you can explore on your own.$$
includes a tropical drink at the bar.
A break for lunch is a good idea after visiting either of the gardens
and your ship will be a convenient spot to do so if you wish.It will be
docked less than five minutes away.In the afternoon,head east on
Route A3 until you reach the Prospect Plantation.This was origi-
nally one of the largest sugar plantations on Jamaica.No sugar is
grown here today,but the plantation does grow a variety of fruits,
and there is also a tremendous variety of exotic flora.All of this will
be seen via an interesting tour on an open car pulled by a tractor.
Several stops are made,with different skills demonstrated (such as
husking coconuts),and there is time to visit the Prospect College
Chapel and to admire some of the outstanding views fromthe plan
tation’s hilltop location.The guided tour of the plantation takes
around 90 minutes.If you follow this itinerary exactly,then you
should plan on making the 2 pmtour (3 pmon Sunday).Other tours
are at 10:30 am and 3:30 pm (at 11 am and 1 pm on Sunday).Be
aware that,in many instances,a tour beginning at 3 pm or later
might get you back too late to catch your ship.Allow20 minutes to
get back to the ship from the Plantation and more if you have to
return a rental car.$$$.Additional fees for horseback riding (time
not included in the suggested tour).
There’s a reasonably good chance that,just before the time you are
due back onboardship,a performance of singers anddancers incol
orful costumes will be giving their Jamaica Farewell at the ship.
Excursionstaff onyour shipmight knowwhether or not it will be tak
ing place.If not,you can contact the Little Pub for information.
(876) 974-2324.
Other Attractions
ShawPark Botanical Gardens:The gardens are lovely and
are more popular than either the Enchanted or Coyaba Gar
dens,but only because most of the cruise ship-sponsored
excursions go here.I prefer the others andsuggest that they
be a bigger priority if you are on your own.Located 3/4-mile
southof townonRoute A3andthenone mile west via signs.
$$.Allow at least 45 minutes.
Island Village:One of Ocho Rios’ newest attractions (it
opened in the spring of 2002),this can almost be termed a
Jamaican theme park.The creation of Chris Blackwell
(one-time manager of Bob Marley),it features a restaurant
(a branchof the popular Margaritaville),shops,fine arts gal-
lery,an amphitheater for live music performances,and even
a beach.However,the centerpiece is definitely the colorfully
entertaining Reggae Explosion Museum.It is probably the
best facility of its kind devoted to this art form.Those who
like reggae or whohave aninterest inlearningmore about it
might dowell tomake this part of their highlight tour.Adja-
cent to the cruise ship terminal.$$ for museum;other fees
vary.Allow at least 90 minutes.
Harmony Hall:This is an interesting museumhoused in an
other former plantation home.It features the work of Ja
maican artists.Located 4½miles east of town on Route A3.
Opens at 10 am.
Rafting on the Martha Brae:Located in Falmouth,this is
actually closer to Montego Bay than to Ocho Rios and is de
tailed under that port.However,it is definitely reachable on
a day-trip fromOcho Rios.
Refer tothe shoppingsectionunder Kingstonfor details onthe types
of items that can be purchased in Jamaica.There is a small shopping
center just southof the maincruise shipdock,althoughthe choice of
shops isn’t that good if you’re looking for high-quality merchandise.
The stretch of Main Street beginning just east of the port is Ocho
Ocho Rios
Rios’ main shopping area.The Ocho Rios Craft Park,Island Plaza
and Ocean Village Plaza are all within a couple of blocks of one
another and provide the greatest choice in town.Other places to
consider are Soni’s Plaza and the Taj Mahal.All of the cruise ships
provide shopping excursions in Ocho Rios if that’s your main bag.
Otherwise,if you’re gettingleg-weary,any taxi driver will take youto
any and all of the shopping havens.
Sports &Recreation
There are several beaches around Ocho Rios,although they don’t
tend to be quite as nice as those at Montego Bay or Port Antonio.
Dunn’s River Falls ends at the beach and a nice relaxation period on
the beachbefore or after your climbdoes make for anenhancedvisit.
Rafting is available on the White River.Golf lovers can probably
arrange through their cruise ship to play at the beautiful and chal
lenging Superclubs Golf ClubRunaway Bay (the name comes from
the fact that slaves used to run away to this area).
Port Antonio
Although not frequently called on by the cruise ships,it can be
reached on a day-trip fromthe more frequently visited port of Ocho
Rios.The distance is about 55 miles.
Slightly larger than Ocho Rios,Port Antonio occupies a beautiful
location along the foothills of the north side of the Blue Mountains,
while Kingston is on the south side.Port Antonio was one of the first
areas of Jamaica to attract tourism and many famous individuals
have takentheir vacations here.Errol Flynnevenhada home onNavy
Island.Set aroundtwoharbors (the East Harbour andWest Harbour),
divided by a small peninsula that juts out into the bay and Navy
Island just off the peninsula,the town and the entire surrounding
area represent a quieter side of Jamaica,but one filled with opportu
nities to visit beautiful places.The American poetess Ella Wilcox once
described Port Antonio as the “most exquisite spot on earth.”
AlthoughI wouldn’t gothat far,there is nodoubt that it is a wonder
ful destination.
Cruise ships arrive inWest Harbour,just afewminutes’ walk fromthe
center of town.The recently upgraded pier facilities can handle all
but the very largest of ships.All of the vessels that are currently
scheduled to call on this port will fit at the dock.Thus,tenders
shouldn’t be necessary.
Port Antonio
Port Antonio
100 FEET
Folly Point
East Harbour
Folly Estate/
Folly Ruins
Bus Station
Post Office
Tourist Information
Tourist Information Office
The Jamaica Tourist Board has an office at City Center Plaza at Har
bour Street,just south of the intersection with West Street.
Getting Around
Downtown is rather small and is best negotiated on foot.The main
highway into town (the A4) becomes West Palm Avenue and then
West Street andis the principle thoroughfare.The A4turns ontoHar
bour Street in the center of Port Antonio and then becomes Allan
Avenue as it leaves the east side of town.It generally runs parallel to
the harbors.Water taxi service departs fromthe peninsula between
the harbors (on the West Harbour side) and connects to Navy Island.
For sights andactivities outside of the center youcouldrent acar,but
it might be less expensive togoby taxi.Sharedtaxis (withthe strange
local name of “robots”) ply the A4 corridor and are cheaper still than
regular cabs.
Local car rental agency:Eastern Rent-a-Car, (876)
One-Day Sightseeing Tour
The recently refurbished and expanded waterfront promenade
makes for a nice introduction to Port Antonio as it allows you to take
in the glorious setting.An even better viewcan be had by taking the
short ferry ride ($) to Navy Island where you’ll have a panorama of
the entire harbor.The heart of Port Antonio is centered around the
intersection of Harbour and West Streets.There are several nice
squares with monuments honoring Jamaica’s war dead.On West
Street is the colorful Musgrave Market,one of those places that’s a
must even if you aren’t a big shopper.South on Harbour is the red
brick Christ Church.Notable in this neo-Romanesque Anglican
church is the epiphyte-decorated belfry.(Epiphytes are plants that
growabove the ground and are supported by some other structure,
in this case the belfry itself.)
Back at the main intersection,walk north on Fort George Street.This
street passes through the small TitchfieldPeninsula that divides the
West and East Harbours.It is one of the prettiest and most delightful
neighborhoods in all of Jamaica.The hilly streets contain many gin
gerbread-style houses.At the northern tip of the peninsula are the
remains of Fort George which was constructed in 1729 to protect
the harbor.Two points of interest lie to the east of downtown on a
small peninsula.Folly is the well-named ruin of a 1905 project by a
wealthy American that went bad.Although the 60-room mansion
was lived in for seven years (despite local lore that says the place
started to crumble upon its completion),it was abandoned and
today is in a state of semi-ruin.Farther out on the peninsula is Folly
Point Lighthouse.Dating from 1888,the bright orange tower is a
landmark and is situated on pleasant grounds.Although you can
walk to and fromFolly it would be wise to consider a taxi for at least
one direction.
The walking tour of Port Antonio should take no more than two
hours (three if you go to Navy Island).That will allowthe better part
of the day to take in some of the very nice sights in the vicinity.
Somerset Falls,10 miles west of Port Antonio via the A4,is a very
scenic area where the Daniels River traverses a gorge via a series of
cascades and pools.Allow about 90 minutes for the round-trip
excursion,including sightseeing.$$.Somerset Falls is far less known
than Ocho Rios’ Dunn’s River Falls but is almost as worthy and thus a
short trip to the east will be rewarded.
An even greater number of scenic spots are located on or just off of
the A4 heading east fromPort Antonio.The points of interest come
up fast and furious,so let’s begin about two miles fromtown at Tur-
tle Crawle Bay.Atop one of the headlands that surround this
semi-circular bay is Trident Castle,a stunning Austrian rococo-style
home that was originally intended to be a resort when it was built in
the early 1980s.It has been featured in several motion pictures,as is
the nearby Jamaica Palace,an equally wild-looking structure,this
one in semi-Greek architectural style.
Some three miles farther down the road is the brief cutoff for
Frenchman’s Cove,primarily a beach area but definitely one of the
prettiest spots you’ll ever see.At San San Beach you’ll see another
locale that has beena favorite place for movie directors.There’s a pri
vate resort but day-visitors are sometimes allowed to explore pictur
esque Alligator Head.Just beyond San San is the Blue Lagoon of
movie fame (the Brooke Shields version).It really is a beautiful place,
even if you just come to look.Other options at the Blue Lagoon
include swimming,snorkeling and taking a pleasant ride on a bam
boo raft (available at the Lagoon Restaurant).$$$.To the east of the
Blue Lagoon is another private resort,this one called Dragon Bay,
but you can take a quick peek.
A mile down the road is the small town of Fairy Hill,another
picture-perfect spot where this excursion ends.The trip,including
brief stops as mentioned,should take about two hours,without
allowing time for any recreational activities.
Other Attractions
Rio Grande Rafting:This is a great diversion,as well as a
way to take in some picturesque scenery.Starting about six
miles west of town on Highway A4,you’ll be taken on a se
rene journey lasting 2½hours on the beautiful Rio Grande.
The vessel is a 33-foot raft comprised of bamboo strips
lashed together.One person propels the raft with a long
pole.You could describe this as the Jamaican version of a
gondola ride,and it can be a romantic interlude while on
port call.Amaximumof two adults and one child can be ac
commodated per raft.Last departure at 3 pm.$$$$.
An interesting alternative destination in the Port Antonio vi
cinity is Blue Mountain &John Crowe Mountain National
Park.One of the largest parks in the Caribbean,this
200,000-acre preserve has three separate sections and cov
ers a huge chunk of the eastern tip of Jamaica.On the south
side,the park extends almost all the way to Kingston.The
mountainous terrain includes 7,402-foot Blue Mountain
Peak as well as an uncountable number of waterfalls and a
great variety of flora and fauna.The entire park is a dense
rain forest.There are many roads,but some of themrequire
4WD,especially after major rains,which are frequent.
Therefore,the easiest way tosee the park is by guidedexcur-
sion.These may or not be available as part of port calls to
Port Antonio.However,you should be able to arrange tours
at any number of operators in town.Inquire at the tourist
office for reliable firms.
There are many shops in downtown Port Antonio selling all of the
things that were listed in the Kingston shopping section.One place
of special interest to shoppers is the lively StrawMarket.The afore
mentioned Musgrave Market is the other main shopping spot.
Sports &Recreation
The best beaches inPort Antonioare slightly tothe east of town.San
San Beach,Boston Beach and Frenchman’s Cove are the most
popular places to take in the sun.Snorkeling and diving by the reefs
offshore fromPort Antonio is some of the best in Jamaica.All types
of fishing trips and charters can also be arranged.
National Tourist Office:Mexican Government Tourist Office;
(800) 446-3942,
This country’s diverse terrain,peoples and history is way beyond the
scope of a book onthe Caribbean.However,all of its Caribbeanports
lie on the almost flat Yucatán Peninsula (its north shore actually is on
the Gulf of Mexico),which comprises the states of Yucatán,
Campeche and Quintana Roo.Froma geographical standpoint,the
Yucatán also contains the entire nation of Belize and a small part of
Guatemala.However,about 85%of its roughly 70,000 square miles
lies within Mexico.Except for Mérida,which is the capital of Yucatán
state,andCancún,the populationis generally light andscattered.To
some extent,the growth of the resorts along the Caribbean coasts is
changing the demographics as more and more people seek work in
these areas.Despite this,the population of the peninsula is still pri-
marily made up of Mayan Indians.It is the Mayan culture,along with
the great recreational opportunities of the coast,that bring millions
of visitors to the Yucatán each year.
Although not as frequently called upon by cruise ships as nearby
Cozumel and Playa del Carmen,it can be easily reached on a day-trip
fromthose destinations.
As recently as 40 years ago,Cancún barely existed.Today it is a thriv
ing city of almost 500,000 people and is one of Mexico’s (and the
world’s) foremost resort destinations.High-rise hotels,many with
unusual architectural designs,run along the narrow upside-down
L-shaped spit of land that is Isla Cancún – the resort zone or,more
properly,the Hotel Zone.This is separated from the mainland por
tion of the city by the Laguna de Nichupté.
Cruise ships have toanchor offshore andpassengers must transfer to
Cancún via a 10-minute tender ride.From the dock,located by the
Playa Tortugas in the northern part of Isla Cancún,it is just a
five-minute taxi ride into downtown Cancún.The Hotel Zone begins
within walking distance of the dock.Since cruise ships don’t fre
quently call at Cancún itself,many readers who want to visit will be
coming fromPlaya del Carmen or Cozumel via Playa del Carmen.The
cruise lines oftenoffer transportation(for a fee),inadditiontoexcur
sions that spend the day at Cancún.If you rent a car at Playa del
Carmen,Highway 307 connects the two cities.Stay on 307 all the
way into downtown Cancún if you want to get to the mainland part
of the city.Otherwise,turn right off Highway 307 just north of the
airport onto Blvd.Kukulcán,which will take you directly to Isla
Tourist Information Office
Avenida Tulum26,downtown.
Getting Around
If your visit is going to be restricted to Cancún itself,you won’t need
a car (althoughit does make exploringthe hotel zone somewhat eas
ier).There is frequent and inexpensive local bus service between the
Hotel Zone and central Cancún.Either Route 1 or 2 (“Ruta 1"and
”Ruta 2") are the two lines that best serve visitors.Although taxis are
ubiquitous,they are very high-priced,especially if you are going
from one destination in the Hotel Zone to another.Try walking or
taking the bus.Navigating on foot or in a vehicle is quite easy in
Cancún,since there are fewstreets that visitors have to be aware of.
The primary thoroughfare is the Blvd.Kukulcán,which runs the
entire length of the Hotel Zone.In the south,it begins on the main
landat the intersectionof Highway 307,thentraverses the entire Isla
Cancún,before it crosses back onto the mainland,turning into the
Avenida Coba when it nears the city center.At either end,a short
causeway connects the island and mainland.All of the major hotels
andother sights are either onor immediately off of Blvd.Kukulcán.If
you’re going to be doing a lot of walking around in downtown,then
you should pick up the good pocket map available at the tourist
office.Traffic is heavy,so be patient if you’re driving.
Local car rental agency:Zipp Rental Cars, (011) (52) (9)
One-Day Sightseeing Tour
There isn’t anything of particular interest in the mainland part of the
city (although there is a lot of shopping there,as well as on the
island) so this tour will concentrate on Isla Cancún.The island is 15
miles longbut only a quarter of a mile wide,soit isn’t easy toget lost.
Inadditiontothe recreational activities for whichthis resort is sowell
known,the sights can be divided into two general categories.The
first is what I would term“traditional” sights (of which there aren’t
too many),while the second comprises the resort hotels.
The Ruinas El Rey are near the southern end of the island.The site is
not a large one,but there are several temples and platforms that can
be visited.As at other places in the Yucatán,you’ll likely see iguana
lizards basking in the sun,oblivious to the throngs of tourists.Per
haps what is most striking about El Rey is not the ruins themselves
but their setting.Surrounded by modern high-rise hotels and mani
cured golf courses,the contrast between ancient and modern civili
zation is striking.Fromthe ruins area,it is also worth taking a good
look at the Laguna de Nichupté because you can frequently see
many of the different types of birds who make the lagoon their
home.Allow about a half-hour for your visit.$$.
The Hotel Zone contains more than three dozen major hotels,all
lined up between Blvd.Kukulcán and either the Caribbean or the
lagoon.There are fewplaces (Las Vegas comes quickly to mind) that
have a more impressive array of architecturally interesting and beau
tiful hotels.Extravagant and extensive landscaping is another fea
ture of the major Cancún resorts.The architecture of several hotels is
based on Mayan traditions,although a full range of styles can be
found.It would,of course,be impossible tosee every hotel andsome
aren’t worth that much of your time,so I’ve picked out my very own
“top 10” for you.Working from north to south,the first is the
Presidente Intercontinental (a half-mile east of the tender dock).
Not far away at the Punta Cancún,where the island bends toward
the south,is the Hyatt Regency Cancún and the Camino Real
Cancún.About another half-mile south is the Hyatt Cancún Caribe
Resort and the Sheraton Resort & Towers.A little farther to the
south you’ll find Le Meridien and the Cancún Palace.Finally,
towardthe bottomof the islandandsomewhat more spreadout,are
the Marriott Casa Magna,the Ritz Carlton Club Cancún and the
Westin Regina Resort.How long you spend visiting the hotels
depends on howmuch you like this type of touring.If you have a car
and only take a quick look,you can do it in a couple of hours,but
some people can spend an entire day on this sort of thing.I know I
Other Attractions
Isla Mujeres is located five miles off the eastern tip of the
Yucatán peninsula.The island is five miles long and only a
half-mile wide.Even those who only know a few words of
Spanish generally are aware that the name means Island of
Women.But,guys,don’t get any wild ideas in your head.
The name was given by the Spaniards because they found
pottery there decoratedwiththe figures of women.It is a re
sort island but much more casual than bigger Cancún.You
can reach the island by regular ferry service (hourly in each
direction) from Puerto Juarez,a few miles north of down
town Cancún at the northern end of Highway 180.In addi
tion to beaches,diving and snorkeling the island has several
attractions.The Dolphin Discovery allows you to get up
close and personal with these friendly mammals.$$$.
Laguna Makax is a sanctuary for sea turtles.$$.You’ll also
find some small Mayan ruins as well as pretty scenery on Isla
Mujeres.It is easy tospendanywhere froma fewhours toan
entire day on the island.
There are various boat rides in the waters around Cancún Is
land.A lagoon cruise is a relaxing way to see the lagoon as
well as get a great viewof the hotel skyline.Trips on the la
goon,as well as to various other destinations,depart from
Aqua World,an excellent marina with all sorts of facilities
for water-based recreation.
Excursions to Tulum or Chichén Itzá are possible.See the
appropriate port of call for these attractions (Playa del
Carmen for Tulumand Progreso/Mérida for Chichén Itzá).
See the cost chart for shore activities onpage 117.
Cancún is shopping heaven for just about anything you want to buy.
The Hotel Zone has higher prices but the greatest variety.These
include the usual souvenir items,but the most luxurious boutiques
and specialty shops of all kinds can also be found here.There are
many upscale stores in the larger hotels,as well as in separate shop-
ping complexes.The two largest enclosed malls are the beautiful
Plaza Caracol (near Punta Cancún),with over 200 stores and the
250-store Kukulcán Plaza,situated about halfway down the island.
Between the two are the smaller,but still worthwhile,
Forum-by-the-Sea and La Isla Shopping Village.The latter two are
very attractively landscaped and could even be considered destina
tions for non-shoppers.Although it is relatively rare to find real bar
gains at any of these places,youcanstill windupsavingsome money
over shopping at home because Cancún is a duty-free zone.
For Mexican-style shopping (that is,in a marketplace complete with
bargaining over the price),try the Mercado de Artesanías Negro.
Near the Convention Center,this is a very large place and has all the
fun and atmosphere of a flea market.This is probably the best place
in Cancún for authentic Mexican handicrafts.A good second choice
is in the main part of the city along Avenida Tulum.That street is
downtown’s major shoppingarea andthe Kihuic is the largest of the
markets in terms of the number of vendors.
Sports &Recreation
Going to the beach may be activity number one in Cancún,so a
detailed look at that is task number one right now.It isn’t only the
beaches themselves,with their fine white sand,that are so beautiful
– equally inviting are the brilliant and multi-shaded blue and green
waters of the Caribbean.Although the best stretches of beach are
behind the hotels,the lawin Mexico allows any person to use them.
That is,you don’t have to be a hotel guest.On the other hand,you
will not be allowed to use any hotel beach facilities as a day visitor.
Bigdeal.Bringyour owntowel andyou’ll still have a great time.Rela
tively narrow beaches with the calmest waters are on the northern
part of the island,which runs west to east fromthe mainland.They
face the Bahia (Bay) de Mujeres.Included in this group are Playa
Linda,Playa Langosta and Playa Tortugas.Since the latter is right
by the tender dock it makes sense to use this one if your port of call is
Cancún.Near the bend of Isla Cancún is the Playa Caracol.The best
beaches on the Caribbean-facing side are Playa Chac-Mool (maybe
the most powdery sand in the Caribbean),and Playa Delfines.Each
of these runs a considerable distance.The latter is in an area where
there are fewer hotels,so it is much quieter.There’s also a branch of
the well-known Wet ‘n Wild theme park in Cancún.It is at the far
southern end of Cancún Island on Nizuc Point.
Snorkelingandscuba divingopportunities are not as numerous or as
rewarding as in nearby Cozumel.However,if you’re docking in
Cancún and want to dive,then head for the southern end of the
island at Nizuc Point.Beginners might want to check out Scuba
Cancún in the vicinity of Playa Langosta on the lagoon side.After
instruction,you get to dive at a small shallowreef in the lagoon.The
lagoonis alsothe place for water skiingandparasailing.Windsurfing
is a possibility here as well.If you haven’t signed up for any of these
activities through your cruise line,then the best place to head for is
the marina complex called Aqua World.They rent all kinds of equip
ment and can also put you in touch with reliable operators.Aqua
World is on the lagoon side of Blvd.Kukulcán,near the Marriott
Hotel.Last,but certainly not least onthe list of water activities is fish
ing.All sorts of game fish inhabit the waters of this area,with the
types varying widely by season.Again,Aqua World is the place to
sign up if you are on your own.
Shouldyouwant toremainondry land,there are several golf courses
in the vicinity,with the most popular non-hotel course being
Pok-Ta-Pok Golf Course in the northern part of the island,near
Playa Tortuga,but onthe lagoonside.The northernside of the island
also has a paved path that can be used by joggers,bicycle riders or
even for roller-blading if you brought your blades along for the
Costa Maya
The “MayanCoast” is anapproximately 80-mile stretchof landinthe
southernYucatánstretchingfromthe border of Belize northtoPunta
Herrero.Like the coast farther to the north (where Playa del Carmen
and Cancún are located),it is close to ancient ruins and has the same
seaside attraction.Until very recently,this was a wilderness area with
large swamps covering most of the land away from the Caribbean
coast.All that has changedina fewyears as the Costa Maya becomes
a hotbed of development.Fortunately,it is controlled and the natu
ral ecosystemof the region is to be protected.It makes a great base
for discovering the world of the Maya.
The new port facility is called the Puerto Costa Maya Cruise Ship
Terminal and was designed especially for cruise ship passengers.
Thus,it is one of the most convenient places you’ll ever disembark at.
It is located at Mahahual (sometimes spelled Majahual),a small
towninthe middle of the Costa Maya.Youmay findthat some cruise
line itineraries refer to their Costa Maya port of call as Mahahual.
Tourist Information Office
Information is available at the cruise ship terminal.
Getting Around
Beaches and other recreational pursuits are within a short walk or
taxi ride of the ship terminal.Mahahual itself used to be in an area
that was completely isolated fromthe rest of the Yucatán,as there
were no roads.Now,a newaccess road (Highway 10) has been com
pleted that connects it to Highway 307,the primary north-to-south
route along the Caribbean side of the Yucatán.The latter road then
provides access to many interesting Mayan sites and other activities.
However,this area is still somewhat isolated and tourisminfrastruc
ture is still being developed.Therefore,you might want to consider
guided shore excursions.If you are going to make your own way (or
even if you’re going the excursion route),you should be aware that
Costa Maya is quite a distance fromthe northern Yucatán ports such
as Cozumel and the other ports near it.Thus,day-trips to points of
Costa Maya
interest in those places is not practical.Fortunately,you will find
plenty tosee anddowithinthe CostaMayaregion.Due tothe limited
number of local agencies,it is best to make arrangements with one
of the major car rental companies.
One-Day Sightseeing Tour
The entire coast has plenty of excellent beaches and places for all
sorts of water-based recreation,but that will be discussed later.
Sightseeing is dominated by the chance to see some of the many
excellent Mayan ruins and their jungle setting.While many of them
are too far fromthe dock to see on a day-trip,there are quite a few
within a reachable distance to the east-southeast of Mahahual near
the border with neighboring Belize.
Chacchoben,Dzibanché and Kohunlich are the most likely candi
dates.The latter two are usually visited together on guided shore
excursions because of their relative proximity to one another.Those
on their own with a car can conceivably do them in addition to
Chacchoben in one long whirlwind day (depending upon howmuch
shore time you have).You first have to make your way from
Mahahual to Highway 307 and then head south to Chetumal.This
portion of the trip is a good 90-minute ride.Fromthere,you should
take Highway 186 to the vicinity of the first two Mayan sites.
Dzibanché is located several miles north of Highway 186 via a dirt
roadfromthe village of Morocoy.It has undergone extensive excava-
tions in recent years and is a marvelous site whose ruins are sur-
rounded by largely inpenetrable jungle.There are may fine temple
remains,including the Temple of the Owls and Temple of the Cap
tives.From the higher temples there are excellent views for those
who choose to make the climb on the typically narrow and steep
steps of Mayan structures.
The larger site at Kohunlich,situated just south of Highway 186 and
easily accessible,is also surrounded by the jungle.But here you will
have an opportunity to see a much more diverse collection of struc
tures.In addition to the remarkable Temple of the Large Masks and
other religious edifices,Kohunlich features a Mayan ball court and
several outstanding plazas.Between the two sites,you should allow
approximately 2½hours sightseeing time.
The 10 acres of the Chacchoben Mayan ruins can be done,time per
mitting,on your way back to Costa Maya.Once you have resumed
your journey on Highway 307 north fromChetumal,take the cutoff
for Highway 293.Soon after,you will reach the town of Lázaro
Cárdenas.Follow signs for the ruins.Once again,the ruins are in a
jungle setting,which makes your visit more mysterious and enjoy
able.Compared to the preceding sites,Chacchoben is largely
unexcavated and you can catch glimpses of still-to-be-discovered
Mayan temples hidden in the thick natural growth.One of the main
reasons to visit Chacchoben,indeed,is to make the comparison
between the excavated and unexcavated.The more explored por
tions of the site include a pyramid and several other structures.It
shouldtake about anhour tovisit.All of the precedingsites are open
daily.$-$$ for each site with an additional fee ($$) for taking video.
After visiting Chacchoben reverse your route back to Highway 307.
Fromthere it’s only a short distance north to the junction with High
way 10 and the final leg of the journey back to your ship.
Other Attractions
Oxtankahis another area of ruins that is near Chetumal.It is
attractively situated on Chetumal Bay about 10 miles
(16km) north of Chetumal via Avenida Heroes.Part of the
route is via a dirt road.Although this isn’t one of the largest
of the Mayan sites in this part of the country,it is unusual in
several respects.Firstly,it is one of the fewwhere the Span-
ish built a church in an existing Mayan settlement.It com-
bines architectural elements of the Spanishandthe Maya.In
addition,while most Mayan sites are dominated by temples
and other public structures,this site gives some insight into
the way Mayans lived because it includes what might be
termed a residential area.In fact,“three neighborhoods” is
a rough translation of the site’s name.You should allow
about two hours for the excursion,including time to and
from Chetumal.$$$ plus additional fee ($$) for taking
The city of Chetumal is the largest community in the south
ern Yucatán peninsula.However,there is little to see,except
the fabulous Chetumal Museum(sometimes still known as
the Museum of Mayan Culture).It is usually included in
shore excursions that go to Oxtankah.Unfortunately,al
though it definitely merits a visit,a single day tour to this
area doesn’t allowone to see everything that is worthwhile.
But,for those whoappreciate fine museums,this multi-level
facility has some of the best displays on Mayan culture to be
found anywhere.Although much about Mayan civilization
is unknown (and may well remain so),just about all that is
knownis presentedhere.Many examples of Mayancarvings
are on display.A meaningful visit to the museum should
take at least an hour.$.
Costa Maya
If you want to explore the true jungle terrain of this area,
thanaJeepsafari is the way todoso.These canbe arranged
through your cruise line as a shore excursion.
Other than a small number of chic shops in and around the cruise
ship terminal and native vendors at the various archaeological sites,
this part of Mexico hasn’t yet become a big shopping area.But just
give it some time!Local crafts can also be found at markets in
Sports &Recreation
The beaches along the Costa Maya,including those immediately to
the north and south of the cruise ship terminal,are excellent – clean,
relatively uncrowdedandbeautiful.Swimmingconditions cansome-
times be on the rough side,so exercise caution,especially if you are
not an experienced swimmer.Snorkeling and scuba are becoming
increasingly popular in this area because of the Great Mayan Reef,
which is only 400 yards offshore.Because of the still relatively unde-
veloped tourist industry in this region,it is wisest to arrange all of
these activities through your cruise ship’s shore excursion office.
Other possibilities include horseback riding and kayaking.
The island of Cozumel is less than a dozen miles from mainland
Yucatán.It is under 30 miles long and averages about nine miles
across.Although it isn’t all that big,it does have the distinction of
being Mexico’s largest inhabited island.The island is practically flat
andis coveredby growththat ranges fromugly scrubtothick jungle.
Cozumel was originally a major Mayan settlement.The Spaniards
just about wiped out the native population but then proceeded to
turn it into an important port.Although it is a major vacation desti
nation,it is much less developed than Cancún and its setting has
been left in a more natural state,even if that state isn’t a particularly
attractive one.Cozumel’s real claim to fame is its beaches and
offshore reefs,which attract divers and snorkelers fromall over the
world.Unlike Cancún,a very large proportion of Cozumel’s visitors
will be day-trippers like yourself fromthe many cruise ships that call
The deep-water harbor of Cozumel can accommodate several of the
largest ships at one time.Dependinguponhowmany cruise ships are
in port at one time,there is a small possibility that tenders will have
to be used.Unfortunately,Cozumel’s dock is not within walking dis
tance of Cozumel’s maintown,SanMiguel.Taxis are available if you
wish to get into town on your own.
Tourist Information Office
Plaza del Sol,downtown San Miguel on the east side of the main
plaza.It closes at 2:30 pm.
Getting Around
Within San Miguel,it is easy enough to navigate using foot power.
However,a good many of the island’s sights and activities are not in
the city.If you are going to be visiting one location,then a taxi is
probably the best way to get there,other than a guided shore excur
sion.Car rentals are available,but the condition of the roads doesn’t
make themsuch a great choice.Mopeds or Jeeps can also be rented
and these are much better suited to Cozumel’s terrain,although
great care in driving still has to be exercised because of the horren-
dous number of huge potholes.
Because of the poor driving conditions on most parts of the island,
you might want to consider a guided excursion.Various excursions
cover just about all of the sights that will be discussed in the follow-
ing section.For tough do-it-yourself folks,the Carratera Transversal
cuts across the island from San Miguel to the Caribbean coast.
Carratera Sur and Carratera Norte head south and north from San
Miguel along the western side of the island,which faces the main-
Local car rental agency:Cocodrilos Car Rental,(011) (52)
(9) 872-5030.
One-Day Sightseeing Tour
Although Cozumel is primarily known as a destination for those who
are interestedinsnorkelingandother water-relatedactivities (details
inthe Sports &Recreationsection),many people are surprisedtofind
that there are quite a few interesting places to see as well.
In San Miguel (full name San Miguel de Cozumel),start at the central
square,the Plaza del Sol.It contains a statue of Mexican hero Benito
Juarez.The Avenida Rafael Melger runs along the waterfront.It is
San Miguel’s main shopping street.The Museo de la Isla de
Cozumel,Avenida Rafael Melger between Calles 4 and 6,describes
the humanandnatural history of the islandfromthe Mayaneraupto
the present.It is a fairly large museum and the collection is good.
Allow about a half-hour for your visit.$.
The ParqueArqueologicodeCozumel,Avenida65Sud,is toofar to
walk to from the plaza area.The best way to get there is by taxi (it
takes 10 minutes).This is,in effect,an outdoor museumwith many
examples of carvings from several civilizations.In addition to the
Mayans,you’ll see examples of work from the Olmecs,Aztecs and
Toltecs.All of the displays are reproductions rather than originals,
but the quality of the work is high.There are also many exhibits
depicting Mayan culture and life.Including travel time,a trip to the
archaeological park should take about 90 minutes.$$.
There are several areas of real Mayan ruins on Cozumel,most of
which are small,in bad repair and difficult to reach without 4WD.
The major exception is the San Gervasio Ruins.If driving,take the
Carretera Transversal to San Gervasio and then drive north for four
miles ona dirt roadthat is fairly well-maintained.It is alsopossible to
get here by taxi.The driver will,for a fee,wait for you,since the site
isn’t that big and doesn’t take too long to explore.$,plus $ for using
video cameras.
Perhaps Cozumel’s most popular sight is the Parque Laguna de
Chankanaab,five miles south of San Miguel on the coastal road
(Costera Sur).This is a large natural lagoon that is connected to the
nearby bay by a subterranean channel.The lagoon is home to an
amazingvariety of marine life,as well as a sunkenvessel andoldcan-
nons.The water is clear enoughtosee easily.Swimmingandsnorkel-
ing are not allowed in the lagoon but can be done in the bay.The
lagoon itself is bordered by a beautiful botanical garden that con
tains reproductions of Mayan houses.There is also a small museum
on the premises.Allowabout two hours for your visit,including get
ting there and back (which does not include any recreational time).
As inmost Caribbeanlocations withgoodcoral reefs off-shore,you’ll
find a branch of the Atlantis Submarine here.See Aruba,page 126,
for details. (800) 887-8571 or locally (011) (52) (987) 87-25671.
Call for exact schedule,which varies depending upon season and
cruise ship traffic.$$$$.Allow 1½ hours for the entire submarine
adventure.If you are going to be doing a submarine ride at one of
the other ports instead,then you should have more time for other
attractions here.
Other Attractions
North of the Carretera Transversal (on rough roads,so use a
4WD vehicle) are several small Mayan ruins,including El
Cedral and the Castillo Real.The latter was a Mayan fort
and contains a lookout tower.
At the island’s southern tip is Punta Celarain Lighthouse.
Surrounded by sand dunes,the lighthouse is at a point
where waves come crashinginagainst the dark limestone of
which Cozumel is mostly comprised.Asmall tip to the light
house keeper will allowyou to climb to the top of the light
house.From there,you will have remarkable views of the
entire island of Cozumel,as well as wonderful vistas of the
Excursions to Tulum (from Playa del Carmen),Cancún,or
even Chichén Itzá (Progreso/Mérida) are possible.See de-
tails under the appropriate nearest port of call,whichis indi-
cated following the destination.
Avenida Rafael Melgar is Cozumel’s shopping district,especially in
the vicinity of the Plaza del Sol.There are all kinds of stores here,
ranging from souvenir joints to high quality craft shops and from
small chic boutiques todepartment stores.Everythingyoucanimag-
ine is sold here.Perhaps the best place for crafts is at the market on
Calle 1Sur just southof the plaza.There are alsosome shops near the
cruise shipterminal that feature higher-pricedgoods suchas jewelry.
Sports &Recreation
Diving and snorkeling are the major recreational pursuits on
Cozumel and with good reason.The island is surrounded by mile
after mile of off-shore reefs.Perhaps the most beautiful coral forma
tions can be found on the Maracaibo reef at Cozumel’s southern
end.However,the water here is wild and only experienced divers
should attempt it.The bay at Parque Laguna de Chankanaab is a
better place for less experienced divers.There are many dive or snor
kel tour operators but you will probably find it easier to sign up for
that type of excursion on your ship.
If you want to go swimming or just laze away a few hours on the
beach,Cozumel has plenty of excellent places to choose from.There
are several beaches tothe immediate northandsouthof SanMiguel.
One of the nicest is Playa San Francisco near the Chankanaab park.
The beaches on the eastern side of the island (facing the Caribbean)
are less crowded and have nicer views,since they are usually nestled
in small rocky coves.However,you should be aware that swimming
conditions are more difficult onthe east side andaren’t well suitedto
novice swimmers.
Sportfishing is another popular activity on Cozumel and among the
big-time fish caught are marlin,sailfish and swordfish as well as bar
racuda and red snapper.If your cruise ship doesn’t offer a fishing
expedition,you can arrange it through the Club Naútico de
Cozumel,which is on Avenida Rafael Melgar a few blocks north of
the plaza area.
Back on land,horseback riding is an interesting way to see the inte
rior of the island.While the scenery is not visually rewarding in the
usual sense of the word,it is quite different and worth seeing in its
own sort of way.Try the shore excursion route,since the only other
way to arrange this is through some of the hotels.The Rancho
Buenavista will usually accept day-trippers for their four-hour riding
sojourn.They are at Avenida Rafael Melgar & Calle 11 Sur, (011)
Playa del Carmen
Most ships callingonPlayadel Carmendosofor only ashort time as a
technical call.That is,you may go ashore here only if you are taking
an organized excursion offered by the cruise line.These ships gener
ally only spend enough time anchored here to drop off passengers,
before sailingontonearby Cozumel.Passengers make their ownway
back to Cozumel via regularly scheduled ferry service.Some ships do
remain at Playa del Carmen.
On the mainland opposite the island of Cozumel,Playa del Carmen
has grown in a few short years from a small town to a sizable city.
Although the beach attracts a good number of visitors,it isn’t the
city itself that makes it an important destination.In fact,for cruise
ship passengers,it is essentially a gateway for the wonderful sights
and activities of the Yucatán.
Whether or not your ship is making a technical call or a full-day port
call at Playa del Carmen,you will have to reach the shore via tender.
This will be at the same pier fromwhichyouwill take the ferry back to
Playa del Carmen
Cozumel,if that is where your ship is docked for the day.As Playa del
Carmen is a relatively compact city,almost everything of interest to
visitors in town is a very short walk fromthe pier.
Tourist Information Office
Avenida Juarez,at the northwest corner of the main plaza,just
beyond the pier.
Getting Around
Anything of interest to visitors in Playa del Carmen is within a
five-minute walk of the pier.However,most of the really goodthings
to see and do are out of town.Therefore,most visitors will be taking
shore excursions.
For those who are able to get around on their own,several major car
rental agencies are a couple of blocks straight ahead fromthe pier.
To get out of town,take Avenida Juarez (which begins by the tourist
information office at the main square) for about 1½ miles to the
intersection of Highway 307.From there it is a right (north) to
Cancún or a left (south) to Tulum.You can theoretically also get to
some of the sights by taxi,but this canbecome anexpensive proposi-
tion.Due to the limited number of local car rental agencies,it is best
to reserve with one of the major car rental companies.
One-Day Sightseeing Tour
To reiterate,if you’re on a ship that is docking at Cozumel,you will
have to take a guided shore excursion in Playa del Carmen.You can
choose between the excursion method or rental car if your ship is
going to remain at Playa del Carmen.Either way there are two main
things you will want to see during the time you spend on the main
land,assuming you intend to stay relatively close to Playa del
Carmen.These are the Mayan ruins of Tulumand the natural park of
Xel-Ha.If self-driving,take Highway 307 south fromPlaya.They are
about 10 miles fromone another and both are just east of the high
way.We suggest doing Tulum first because this will allow you to
walk around in the early part of the day when it isn’t as hot.There is
far less shade at Tulumthan at Xel-Ha.
Tulumis 39 miles (64 km) south of Playa del Carmen.Many people
who have been to most of the Mayan sights (guidebook authors as
well) are quick to point out that the ruins of Tulumaren’t as great as
those at Chichén Itzá.Well,they may not be as extensive andmost of
the structures are smaller,but I’ve been to both and can say that,
even if you have already seen Chichén Itzá,you will enjoy a visit to
Playa del Carmen
Tulum.Tulumdates fromaroundthe 10th century andwas probably
originally constructedas a fort overlookingthe Caribbean.Its golden
era began in the 14th century and it was one of only a few major
Mayan cities that was still occupied at the time of the Spanish arrival
in the 16th century.It was finally abandoned around 1600.
The site is about a10-minute walk onagravel roadthroughthe scrub
fromthe parking lot/bus drop-off,or you can pay about a dollar to
ride there via a tram.The archaeological area isn’t all that large and
you can see everything within about an hour.The best feature of
Tulum is its setting.Perched atop a cliff overlooking the myriad
shades of the blue sea,it is one of the loveliest sights you’ll ever see in
the Caribbean.
One of the other good things about Tulumis that most of the struc
tures are in quite good shape.Among the most impressive buildings
are the Temple of the Descending God,the Temple of the Fres
coes,andEl Castillo.The latter servedas the fortress of Tulum.Some
of the pyramids can be climbed and it is somewhat easier to do so
here than at Chichén Itzá,because they aren’t as high.A path leads
down fromthe ruins area to a lovely cove and beach.There you can
relax,take a quick swimor just admire the waters of the Caribbean,
then turn around and gaze up at the ruins atop the cliff.$,plus addi-
tional $$ for use of video cameras.
It is far more difficult to describe Xel-Ha (pronounced SHELL-HA),
which is 29 miles (49 km) south fromPlaya del Carmen and just off
Highway 307.It consists of a series of natural freshwater lagoons fed
by springs that lead out into the sea.There is a maze of rocky prom-
ontories and turning waterways,which makes for a most attractive
setting.The waters are exceptionally clear and so snorkeling is
extremely popular.There is also a beach.Xel-Ha has a resident dol
phin population and it is fun to watch their trainers put them
through the paces.You can actually take part in a hands-on dolphin
encounter for an additional fee ($$$$).
Good restaurants and several shops are also part of the complex.
Even if you don’t come here to snorkel and swim,it is a worthwhile
place to visit because of its beauty.There are many trails that wind
their way through the grounds,passing small Mayan ruins and
providing overlooks above picturesque coves.Just walking the
grounds couldeasily take 90minutes but allowmore time if youplan
to do any water sports.$$$$.
Other Attractions
Another nearby option is Xcaret (ESH-KARET).Situated only
four miles (six km) south fromPlaya,this is another nature
park and is similar in most ways to Xel-Ha.It has more of a
theme park atmosphere and is even larger than Xel-Ha.On
the other hand,some folks complain that it is no longer as
natural as the Xel-Ha.One thing is certain:there is no need
to do both,even if you have the time.I list this one as the
“other” attraction simply because many people will be visit
ing by guided shore excursion and they almost inevitably do
Xel-Ha,especially if the trip includes Tulum.$$$$.
If exploring more ruins is your primary interest in the
Yucatán andyou’re on your own,then the ruins of Cobá,30
miles (49 km) northwest of Tulumvia a marked turnoff,are
another possibility.These ruins are smaller than those at
Tulumand the site has only been partially excavated.That,
in some ways,is its primary attraction.Those who like to see
things as they were foundwill findit interesting.Amongthe
excavated ruins are several temples and a 138-foot-high
pyramid crowned with another temple.It can be climbed.
The setting of Cobá,on the lake of the same name,is quite
An excursion to Chichén Itzá is possible.See the
Progreso/Mérida port listing (page 243) for details.
You can easily get to Cancún fromPlaya del Carmen.It is 42
miles (68 km) north of Playa,also via Highway 307.See the
Cancún port listing for details.
Finally,if you have a few minutes to spare (maybe even
while waiting for the ferry back to Cozumel),there is a small
Mayan ruinin Playa del Carmen itself,just two blocks north
of the ferry pier.It is directly behind the beach.
Considering that Playa has become an increasingly important tourist
destinationover the past several years,it hasn’t developedthe exten
sive shopping district that one might expect.The variety of goods is
typical of any resort town,although there is nothing unique about
the stores.The main shopping drag begins behind the beach and
runs for about six blocks along the pedestrian-only Calle 5.
Sports &Recreation
The name of the town translates as “Carmen’s Beach,” so you know
what the main activity is going to be!You won’t be disappointed in
the quality of the beach,which has fine powdery sand (and is very
clean).What’s evenbetter is the locationof the beach– youcanprac
tically reachit ina single jumpfromthe ferry pier.There is alsoanoff
shore reef that is popular for both diving and snorkeling.As
mentioned before,snorkeling is also great at Xel-Ha and the other
nature parks in the area.They do not have the strong currents of the
Caribbean and are,therefore,more suited to novice snorkelers.
Calica (sometimes known as Puerto Calica) is a small town
just a few miles south of Playa del Carmen that has been
developed as another lure for cruise ships.Although rela
tively few come here now,cruise ship traffic through the
new port is expected to grow.It has the advantage over
Playa del Carmen that ships can tie up at the dock,elimi
nating the need for tenders.Because of its proximity to
Playa,all of the sights and activities there are also available
The port of Progresois a relatively small andquiet townthat serves as
the gateway for cruise shippassengers toMérida.There is little tosee
or do in the former (other than its fine beach),but the Yucatán state
capital of Mérida is quite another story.This is one of the most fasci-
nating cities in all of Mexico and it’s unfortunate that you’ll have less
than a day to see it.Mérida,a city of well over 800,000 residents,is
alsothe gateway tosome of Mexico’s greatest Mayanarchaeological
The Port of Progreso is at the harbor in Yucalpeten,about four miles
west of Progreso.It is approximately 24 miles (40 km) fromProgreso
to Mérida.Plans to build a dock for cruise ship passengers within
Progreso itself at the city’s fishing pier have not yet materialized.If
you are going to be renting a car in Progreso and will be driving to
Mérida,the two cities are directly connected via Highway 261.The
cruise lines generally provide transportation into Mérida at a reason
able price.
Tourist Information Office
Calle 80,No.176 at Calle 37,Progreso.In Mérida,the tourist office is
in the Péon Contreras Theater,on Calle 60 between Calles 57 and59,
a block north of the central Plaza de Independencia.
Getting Around
The street numbering systemin both Progreso and Mérida takes the
same form.Even-numbered streets (“Calle”) run north-to-south,
while east-to-west streets have odd numbers.If you’re staying in
Progreso,it will only be to visit the beach,so getting around isn’t a
problem.In Mérida,navigating the streets is simple because of the
numbering system.The center of the city is the Plaza de
Independencia,bordered by Calles 60 through 63,respectively,on
the east,north,west andsouth.If youhave toask,the other name by
which locals refer to the plaza is the Zocalo.Almost all of the major
points of interest are downtown,within walking distance of the
Plaza.For other areas there is extensive local bus service,as well as
taxis.The main bus terminal is at Calle 69 between Calles 68 and 70,
about a 10-minute walk from the Plaza de Independencia.You are
better off not driving within Mérida.However,if you plan on visiting
Mayansites anddon’t wishtojoina guidedtour,thena car becomes
a necessity.
Local car rental agency:In Progreso you should use one of
the major car rental companies.In Mérida,try EcoRent,
(011) (52) (999) 920-2772.
One-Day Sightseeing Tour
Since it is impossible to visit both the major Mayan ruins and the city
in a single day,you must make an important decision.Do you want
to see Mérida itself,or the archaeological sites?Both are worthwhile
choices.Although the Mayan sites are more spectacular,Mérida
offers the opportunity to see one of Mexico’s most vibrant cities.If
your cruise stops at another Yucatán port,then I suggest using
Progreso to visit Mérida and the other port as a gateway to some of
the Mayan sites.Otherwise,it depends upon where your greatest
interests lie.It is possible to spend a half-day in Mérida and use the
rest of your time to explore some of the smaller archaeological sites
that are closer to the city.
Option 1:The City of Mérida
Beginat the Plazade Independencia,the heart of the city.This large
open space is filledwith big trees andbeautiful flowering plants (like
many of Mérida’s public squares).It is often the scene of events,and
musicians are frequently playing for whoever will listen.It is an oasis
in an otherwise bustling city filled with traffic.Should you be lucky
enough to visit on a Sunday you will find that the Plaza is home to all
sorts of events typical of the local culture.Watching the residents of
Mérida decked out in their Sunday best is a colorful and enjoyable
activity by itself.
As far as the more usual sights are concerned,we begin on the north
side of the plaza at the Palacio de Gobierno (Government Palace).
The beautiful interior contains two floors of exhibits,including an
excellent collection of murals and other displays depicting the
destruction of the Mayan civilization by the invading Spaniards.
Working counter-clockwise,your next stop is on the west side of the
Plaza and the Palacio Municipal (City Hall).Fittingly,this building
was constructed on the remains of a Mayan pyramid.The colorful
exterior includes anumber of architectural styles,includingMoorish.
South of the Plaza is the Casa de Montejo,the first house built by
the Spanish in Mérida.Dating from 1549,the house is now a bank
branchbut still has several things of interest tosee.Take notice of the
elaborate exterior ornamental work (all done by slave labor),includ-
ing a large carving of a conquistador literally standing on the heads
of the Maya.Obviously,the early Spaniards thought this was ingood
taste,but today it is a firm reminder of their brutality.The interior
courtyard of the building has a large patio with many examples of
tropical foliage.Courtyard open weekdays from 9 am until 1 pm.
On the east side of the Plaza is the Catedral.Like many Catholic
houses of worship in Mexico,it was deliberately placed on the site of
a Mayan temple as a further demonstration of Spanish power.It was
completednear the endof the 16thcentury andis quite plainindeco
ration,both outside and inside.However,one of the interior chapels
contains a replica of the Christ of the Blisters,whose original in
another location drewpilgrims fromthroughout the region.Near the
Cathedral on Calle 60 is the MuseoMalay,an art museumdevotedto
the works of regional artists.Open daily except Tuesday.$.
Away fromthe plaza,Calle 60is one of the more interestingstreets in
Mérida,because of its many shops,restaurants and historic build
ings.This is typical of streets in downtown Mérida,and those who
like old cities are sure to appreciate what this area has to offer.As in
many parts of Mérida,the buildings of Calle 60 are a mixture of the
well preserved or restored as well as many in need of work.About six
blocks east of the Plaza area via Calle 59 is the Museo de Arte Popu
lar,housedinanoldmansion.The first floor exhibits cover the handi
crafts of the Yucatán,while those on the second floor are devoted to
similar arts from other parts of Mexico.Open daily except Monday
(closes at 2pmonSunday).The precedingtour of downtown,includ
ing walking and seeing the sights,should take about 2½hours.
Also within Mérida are several other points of interest.Not far from
the Plaza de Independencia and stretching for four blocks along
Avenida Itzáes,beginning at Calle 59,is the Centenario Park &Zoo.
The zoo collection is fairly good,with special emphasis on the ani
mals of the Yucatán,including jaguars.The grounds are lovely and
there is a miniature train ride for when you tire of walking.This is the
best place to go in the city if you have any little ones in tow!Allow
about anhour for your visit,possibly longer if youhave children.$$.
Whether or not you are going to be visiting a Mayan archaeological
site,a visit to Mérida should include a stop at the fine Museo de
Antropologia y Historia (Anthropological & History Museum),
Paseo Montejo and Calle 43.The museumoccupies the easily recog-
nizable peach-colored home of a prominent Mérida family at the
turn of the century.Some of the exhibits on Mayan culture are fasci-
nating,even almost unbelievable.That includes how infant babies’
bodies were “formed” to achieve what the Maya considered to be
beautiful.On a more ordinary level,the collection consists of carv-
ings and other finds from several archaeological sites,including
Chichén Itzá.The gold and jade items are of special interest to most
museum visitors.Allow a minimum of 45 minutes.Open daily,
except Monday (closes at 2 pm on Sunday).$.
Option 2:Chichén Itzá
Just as it is not possible tosee MéridaandChichénItzáinasingle day,
you cannot get to see both Chichén Itzá and the other major ruins
(Uxmal and Kabah) on a single port call.Chichén Itzá is the
best-known and largest of the Yucatán’s archaeological sites.The
excavations of this major Mayan city cover almost four square miles
and include several hundred buildings,although only about 30 have
been fully restored.In portions of the site you can still see the
remains of some unexcavated structures hidden in the scrub and
underbrush.The city’s origins date toabout 435AD.After a periodof
abandonment,it was reoccupied and built to even greater splendor,
reaching its zenith after it was taken over by the fierce Toltecs in the
11th century.However,there is still considerable scholarly debate as
to which culture absorbed which.Chichén Itzá began its decline
around 1200.
The site can be explored via a dirt path that connects the main areas.
After passing through the main entrance and visitor center,you will
immediately be confronted by the imposing El Castillo (The Castle),
awonderfully symmetrical pyramidrisingabout 100feet.Eachof the
four stairways has 91 steps.That,combined with the platformat the
top,equals 365,the number of days in the year.There are many
other features about El Castillo’s design that are tied to the Mayan
calendar.It is possible toclimbtothe topof the pyramidfor anamaz
ing view of the entire Chichén Itzá site.The climb here,as with all
Mayan pyramids,is made more difficult by the narrowsteps and the
very steep slope.In fact,coming down is even harder,especially if
you’re prone tovertigo.At the topof the pyramidis a small temple to
the Toltec god Kukulcán.El Castillo is part of Chichén Itzá’s northern
zone,the last to be built and the one that incorporates the most
Toltec influence.
Among other structures in this section are the biggest of the site’s
several ball courts.The game played here had religious significance
andsacrifices followedat the endof the game.It isn’t knownfor sure
whether the winners or losers gave their lives.The jutting figures of
serpents alongthe ball court walls are typical of Toltec-style architec-
ture.The court is flanked by two large temples.One of them,the
Temple of the Jaguars,has many carvings of warriors.Nearby is a
sacrificial platform.A short side-path leads to the Sacred Cenote,
one of two natural watering holes that provided water for the city.
The remains of people of all classes have beenfoundat the bottomof
the cenote.
If El Castillo is Chichén Itzá’s best-known structure,then second
place goes to the mammoth Temple of the Warriors.It contains
hundreds of statues.In front is the Group of 1,000 Columns.
Although there aren’t that many in reality,the sight is extremely
impressive.The roof that the columns held up is gone and the exact
function of the building isn’t known.
The central zone is more classically Mayan in style.Highlights here
include the Tomb of the High Priest;the Observatory;the Nunnery
(name given by Spaniards);and Akab Dzib,one of the oldest tem
ples at the site.The Observatory is also known as El Caracol (The
Snail) and is assumed to have been used for astrological observa
tions.It is the only knownroundstructure built by the Mayans.There
is also another cenote in this section.
A 15-minute walk along the main pathway from the central zone
leads tothe southernzone.Althoughthe ruins here aren’t as notable
or impressive,this section is also worth visiting if you have time
because it will give you a better insight into the earlier years of
Mayan civilization.
While in the vicinity of Chichén Itzá you might wish to allocate some
time for visiting the Grutas de Balancanché (Balancanché Caves).
They are off Highway 180 about three miles east of Chichén Itzá.Illu
minated walkways cover a distance of about a half-mile.In addition
to the usual stalactite cave formations,there are numerous carvings,
indicating that the caves might have been used by the Maya for reli
gious purposes.Because of the time it takes to visit Chichén Itzá,the
only cruise passengers whocanconsider goingtothe caves are those
coming fromMérida.Guided tours in English lasting about 45 min
utes are given daily at 11 am,1 and 3 pm.$$$.
Visiting Chichén Itzá
Progreso/Mérida is the closest port of call to Chichén Itzá.It is
approximately 75 miles (125 km) from Mérida to Chichén Itzá
(about 100 miles fromthe port in Progreso),compared to 120 miles
(about 200 km) fromCancún.The distance fromPlaya del Carmen is
only slightly less than from Cancún,but it takes about the same
amount of driving time.It is for that reason that I have included
Chichén Itzá here with Mérida.However,this is a reminder that if
your shipdoesn’t call onProgreso/Mérida or youwouldprefer tosee
it fromsomewhere else,you have that option.
Toget fromMéridatoChichénItzáonyour own,travel east onHigh-
way 180,which becomes a toll expressway (180D).Use the Chichén
Itzá exit and proceed via signs on local road 79 to the site.From
Cancún,head just south of the city on Highway 307 to 180D and
west on the latter to the Chichén Itzá exit,as fromMérida.Finally,
fromPlaya del Carmen,followsigns for Mérida,which will take you
to 180Dwest.Tolls (which must be paid in pesos) can run as high as
$7fromthe Caribbeancoast andabout half that muchfromMérida.
The old Highway 180 parallels 180D and you can still use it to avoid
paying the toll,but the driving time is much longer and the road
isn’t in as good a state of repair.Even if you enjoy bumpy rides,
given time restraints imposed by a day visit,you are much better off
forking over some money and taking the toll road.
One could easily devote an entire day to touring Chichén Itzá.The
round-trip travel time takes about three hours from Mérida and
almost five hours from Cancún or Playa del Carmen.Subtracting
that fromyour total port time (with adjustment for lunch) will give
you an idea of how much time you can spend at the site.
Option 3:Uxmal and Kabah
While Chichén Itzá may be larger and more famous than either
Uxmal or Kabah,there is nodenyingthat bothof these fabulous sites
can combine to make for an unforgettable journey into the past.
These sites are part of a large number of ruins that provide examples
of the Mayan architectural form known as the Puuc.Sometimes
Uxmal andKabah are referredto as Puuc cities.Uxmal is 50 miles (82
km) south of Mérida via Highway 180 to Umán and then south on
Highway 261 to the site.There are many people,both experts on
Mayan architecture and just plain casual visitors like you and me,
who will boldly state that Uxmal is more beautiful than Chichén Itzá.
There is little doubt that the structures here are more purely Mayan
than at Chichén Itzá,where a heavy Toltec influence can be seen.
Uxmal was a flourishing center for more than four centuries,begin
ning around 600.It had declined by 1400 to a point where it was vir
tually abandoned.
The architecture here is best known for its intricate exterior adorn
ments in various geometric patterns.The beak-nosed rain god Chac
is oftenseenover entrances tobuildings.Puuc buildingstyle features
mostly lowbuildings that have large proportions.The original color-
ing of the buildings must have been fabulous,and there is still much
evidence of that today.
Your visit will begin with informative exhibits at the visitor center.A
path leads to the main sights,including the highest structure in
Uxmal,the Pyramid of the Magician (or Sorcerer) that rises to 125
feet.Despite the fact that most of Uxmal’s buildings are low,this pyr-
amidis actually higher thanany at ChichénItzá.It is alsosteeper.The
Nunnery was so named by the Spaniards,but the true function of
this 70-roomedifice is not fully understood.It is a beautiful structure
with much stone carving and other details.Then you’ll move on to a
Maya ball court and several smaller structures,before reaching the
Governor’s Palace,considered to be one of the finest examples of
Mayan architecture anywhere.The three-level building has an amaz
ingly beautiful and detailed façade,with numerous geometric pat
terns,serpents,masks and much more.There are more than 100
carvings of Chac.It is believed that the building served as Uxmal’s
administrative center but its position also indicates that it might
have had an astrological function.
The Great Pyramidis alsoof interest,but is not as visually marvelous
as the Pyramid of the Magician.There are also several partially exca
vatedandreconstructedruins.$$ withanadditional fee ($) for video
Kabahis only 12 miles (19 km) south of Uxmal,right alongside High
way 261,so it makes for the perfect other half to a wonderful
“one-two punch” of Mayan sightseeing.Far less visited than Uxmal,
Kabah is a place of almost equal wonder on a much smaller scale.In
fact,there are only a handful of major structures.These include the
Palace of the Masks,an elaborately carved low-rise building with a
facade extending150 feet.Be sure to walk aroundto the back where
the carving is even greater than at the front.The Palace and the
Great Temple are other notable structures,with the latter having
been only partially restored.$,with an additional fee ($) for video
The round-trip travel time to and fromMérida is about three hours.
You can divide your available remaining time (adjusted for a lunch
break) by devoting two-thirds of it to Uxmal and the rest to Kabah.If
you don’t want to drive to any of the major Mayan sights,but would
alsolike toavoidthe large groups oncruise line shore excursions,you
can arrange for full-day tours to either Chichén Itzá or to Uxmal and
Kabah.The biggest local tour operator is MayalandTours inMérida,
(99) 250 621, also arrange tours to
Chichén Itzá.Local bus service from Mérida to Uxmal and Kabah is
available fromthe main bus terminal.
Other Attractions
Since avisit toeither ChichénItzáor acomboof Uxmal andKabahis a
full-day affair (whether you are on a guided tour or on your own),
these alternative attractions are for those who have elected to spend
their time in Mérida.
La Hermita de Santa Isabel:This hermitage was a frequent
resting place for 18th-century travelers on the route to the
port of Campeche.The facility has been restored to its origi
nal appearance andhas a pretty gardenwitha waterfall and
Mayan statuary.Allow about a half-hour.At the intersec
tion of Calles 66 and 77.Open daily,except Monday;$.
There are several archaeological excavations within a short
distance of Mérida for those who don’t have the time or in
clination to venture farther away.The closest is
Dzibilchaltún,nine miles (15 km) north of Mérida on High
way 261 (on the road to and fromProgreso),then east,fol
lowing signs for three miles to the site entrance.Although
not as famous as many other sites and perhaps not as visu
ally spectacular,Dzibilchaltún is a large and important Ma
yan zone.More than 8,000 structures have been uncovered
to date.Many trails traverse the site and there is also a sacri
ficial well fromwhich numerous artifacts have been recov
ered.There is a museumon the grounds.Allow at least an
hour to visit the site.$$.
Most visitors are surprisedtofindthat one of the high-demanditems
in Mérida and throughout the Yucatán are hammocks (hamacas in
Spanish).They are made of various materials andquality ones should
have a tight weave.Also popular are guayaberas,a loosely fitting
cotton shirt that is a less ostentatious version of a Hawaiian shirt.For
the ladies,their version of the guayabera is the dress known as a
huipil.Finally,Panama hats (calledjipis in this neck of the woods) are
another popular item.Locally crafted jewelry is,of course,always
high on the shoppers’ wish lists.While you can get all of these and
just about anythingelse fromstreet vendors,be aware that the qual
ity isn’t always the highest.You are better off paying a little more in
one of the many markets.Street vendors are especially numerous in
and around the Plaza de Independencia.The Municipal Market,or
Mercado Municipal,is the shopping destination of choice in
Mérida.Located at Calles 65 and 56,it is a marvelous collection of
stalls,where craftspeople and others bring their goods fromall over
the Yucatán.It’s worth seeing even if you don’t plan on shopping.
The Mercado is part of the larger commercial district that stretches
over many blocks and is bordered by Calles 54,62,63 and 69.
Sports &Recreation
The Progreso/Mérida port of call is one of the few in this book that
doesn’t offer too much in the way of outdoor recreation.And that
isn’t what attracts visitors to the area.Nonetheless,swimming and
other beach activities are abundant on Mexico’s Gulf Coast.The
beach at Progreso won’t win any beauty contests but will do nicely
for those in need of a sun and sand fix.It is extremely crowded with
locals on weekends.
Less-Visited Ports
Situated in the lower portion of the Gulf of Mexico,about 325 miles
west of the Yucatán Peninsula,Veracruz is a lovely city,with many
historical sites of interest as well as lots of goodscenery,beaches and
recreation.Sofar,this is not a port that has been“discovered” by the
cruise industry at large,but I have the feeling that will change.
National Tourist Office:Panama Tourism,
(800) 557-0017,
Although Panama has many things of interest (the rain forest and its
cultural offerings,for example),there is little doubt that the main
attraction is a chance to see one of the man-made marvels of the
world – the Panama Canal.While the only way to see the entire canal
is to take a cruise that passes through it,including such cruise itiner
aries would be way beyond the scope of this book.However,a num
ber of southernCaribbeancruise itineraries docall onColón,whichis
located on Panama’s Caribbean side and sits adjacent to the north-
ern entrance of the Canal.(The Canal appears to run from east to
west on most maps because that is the general direction from the
Atlantic to Pacific.However,the actual course of the canal is almost
due north-to-south.) As you will see shortly,the immediate sur-
roundings have quite a bit to offer the visitor,including a chance to
see at least a portion of the Canal.Perhaps that is why the port is
becoming easier to find on cruise itineraries.
Ships arrive at the new port facility in Cristobal,adjacent to Colón.
The port is large enough to handle two ships so tender service is not
Tourist Information Office
Although Colón has a local tourist office,it is in the city and there’s
no need to go there.All of the information that you should need will
be available at the dock.
Getting Around
Colón is not the kind of city you would want to walk around in on
your own.In addition to the crime problems in the city,all of the
points of interest are outside of town,whether it is the Panama Canal
or some of the other historical attractions.These potential safety
problems should not deter you fromselecting a cruise with Colón as
a port of call.By simply taking a guided shore excursion,you’ll be
picked up immediately after disembarking and be whisked to your
destination in comfort and safety.However,if you’re the stubborn
type andwant totravel independently,I wouldsuggest hiringataxi.
One-Day Sightseeing Tour
Most of the excursions to the Canal take about a half-day,so you
might have time to see one of the area’s several historic forts.This
section will give you a better idea of what to expect on your excur
The Gatún Locks are about six miles south of Colón.The facility con
sists of three pairs of locks accommodating side-by-side ship traffic,
much in the manner of a two-lane highway.Each lock is about 1,000
feet long.Thus,all but the very longest cruise ships canbe accommo
dated.Similarly,those with the greatest beam are unable to pass
through the canal.The locks raise southbound ship traffic fromsea
level at the Caribbean to an elevation of 85 feet,where they empty
into Lake Gatún.These are the largest locks in the entire Panama
Canal.The lake ranks amongthe world’s largest man-made bodies of
water.Fromthe south end of the lake,ships will be lowered via sev-
eral other series of locks to the Pacific.However,shore excursions go
no farther than the Gatún Lake.You will be taken to a viewing area
adjacent to the locks’ control tower.At the Gatún Locks you will get
an excellent viewof the operation of the locks,including howloco-
motives pull ships fromone lock to another.There is also an impres-
sive model of the entire Panama Canal.Most excursions should also
take you to the nearby Gatún Dam,which created the lake.It is one
of the biggest earthen dams in the world.If you’re on an extended
tour,you might also stop at the Gatún Yacht Club,where you will
have a chance toswiminthe Canal.Well,not quite.You’ll actually be
in the waters of Gatún Lake.
Another attraction that may be included in your excursion (or can be
taken separately) is the short trip to the Fuerte San Lorenzo.It is
near the mouthof the Chagres River,whichwas once the only way to
access the interior of Panama fromthe Caribbeanside.It was usedby
suchnotable figures as Henry Morgan,of pirate fame.SanLorenzois
unlike many other forts built by the Spanish in the Caribbean in that
it was made of cut coral blocks.There are lots of cannons,but the
fort is less impressive than the great views that it provides.
See the cost chart for shore activities onpage 117.
Other Attractions
Since all of the remaining area attractions are somewhat farther
away,you almost certainly will be unable to do them if you spend
most of your time visiting the locks.On the other hand,you might
have already traversedthe Canal onanother cruise.If so,these possi
bilities may be of interest to you.
The townof Portobelois about 25miles northeast of Colón.
It is not usually a shore excursion destination,but there are
buses from Colón.The setting on the bay is attractive and
the town has two forts,each of which is more interesting
than Fuerte San Lorenzo.
Other possible shore excursions that may be offered,de
pending upon the length of your port call,include Chagres
River trips andtrainrides toBalboa.Balboais at the south
ern end of the Canal,opposite Panama City.The train route
dates from before the canal.Service was discontinued for
many years andthe right of way fell intodisrepair.However,
it has been restored and nowoffers an opportunity for visi-
tors to see the isthmus froma different perspective.
There is minimal opportunity for shoppinginColónandit is mostly in
the formof small craft andother shops close tothe docks.Youmight
hear muchabout the ZonaLibre,or Free Trade Zone.Althoughthis is
one of the biggest such zones in the world,it is not for the individual
shopper.Wholesale quantities of all sorts of goods are the specialty
here and you won’t find any bargains on single items.In addition,
most goods are not on display in this rather industrial and unattrac
tive area.My advice is to avoid it.
Sports &Recreation
The pickings here are as slimas the shopping.You really don’t come
to Colón for recreation,but to see part of the Canal.There are some
beaches in the area and snorkeling is also a possibility.However,
most of the beaches attract local residents,rather than visitors,and
youdohave toconsider the safety factor.The best beaches are some
what farther away fromthe city and can be found just to the north
west of Portobelo.
Less-Visited Ports
San Blas
The Comarca de San Blas includes an archipelago of about 400
islands that is home tomore thanhalf of Panama’s 70,000Kuna Indi
ans,but only one in 10 of the islands are inhabited.This tribe solidly
clings to their traditional culture and largely shuns the modern
world.The attraction of San Blas is its difference fromthe world and,
of course,the many coral reefs.You will do best taking a guided
excursion if you want to visit with the Kuna.
Puerto Rico
Commonwealth of the United States.
Area:3,425 square miles.Almost a perfect rectangle,Puerto Rico is a
hundred miles fromeast to west and 35 miles fromnorth to south.
Tourist Office:Puerto Rico TourismCo.,
(800) 223-6530,
The island is geographically dominated by the Central Mountain
range,which runs almost the entire length of Puerto Rico fromeast
to west.These mountains have an average elevation of about 3,000
feet,although the highest peak of Cerro de Punta measures 4,389
feet.Narrow plains eight to 12 miles wide cover the southern and
northerncoasts.Residents of PuertoRicoare Americancitizens.Their
government is patterned on the United States and features a Senate
and House of Representatives.The chief executive is the Governor.
Although Puerto Ricans can vote in American presidential elections,
they have only observer status in the US Congress.
Puerto Rico was discovered by Columbus in 1493,who named it San
Juan Bautista.That was changed to Puerto Rico when the city of San
Juan was founded in 1521 and took a shortened version of the is
land’s original name.The local Indian population,the Borinqueno,
were enslaved and virtually eliminated by the harsh rule of the Span
iards.Settlement of the island was hindered by frequent Dutch and
English attacks,as well as by pirate raids.The Spaniards built a series
of strong defensive fortifications in response to this threat.Some re
forms were made inthe 19thcentury,althoughuprisings against the
Spaniards occurred with increasing frequency.Puerto Rico was
cededby Spaintothe USas aresult of the Spanish-AmericanWar.
Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico
Under the guidance of Governor Luis Muñoz y Marin,Operation
Bootstrap was initiated in 1942 to increase economic development.
The project worked and the prosperity of the island has been grow
ing ever since.The question of the status of Puerto Rico is on the
minds of most islanders,but there is a wide range of views.The sin
gle largest group of people favors the maintenance of the current
Commonwealth arrangement.However,there are sizable minorities
who either want statehood or complete independence.As the Com
monwealth is the middle ground of the three possibilities,it is more
than likely that it will remain that way for a long time to come.
San Juan
The city of San Juan is impressive no matter howyou arrive.Fromthe
airport,the high-rise towers of the business district and resort area
formthe backdrop,while cruise passengers are treated to the sight
of El Morroas their shipenters the huge harbor.SanJuanis the politi-
cal,cultural and economic capital of Puerto Rico.The Spanish
explorer Ponce de León established a settlement nearby as early as
1508,but it was soon abandonedandmovedto the present location
of Old San Juan in 1521,making this one of the oldest cities in the
Western Hemisphere.
With about 435,000 residents,San Juan is the largest city in Puerto
Rico.It is a major manufacturing center,with products ranging from
rumto electronics,textiles to pharmaceuticals.Old San Juan is actu-
ally on an island that is connected to the mainland by several bridges
and causeways.Immediately to the east of Old San Juan is the resort
area of Condado.South of the resort center are the central business
districts of Santurce and Hato Rey.However,the cold facts don’t
explain what makes San Juan so fascinating for the visitor.Old San
Juan is a wonderful city of history and charm;Condado is a world of
luxury and excitement;and the city as a whole has all the vibrancy of
a major metropolis.In short,there is something for everyone!
Since San Juan is a gateway city for so many Caribbean travelers,
we’ll first look at arrival by air.The city’s main airport is about 15
miles east of the piers and,if transfers are not being provided by the
cruise line,you’ll have to take a taxi,which will cost about $16.San
Juan has one of the largest passenger pier facilities in the Western
Hemisphere and it is still being developed.The piers and their pas
senger terminals are lined up alongside the Calle Marina at the foot
Puerto Rico
San Juan
of Old San Juan.Consequently,for day-visitors to San Juan,it is very
conveniently located.
Tourist Information Office
At Luis Muñoz Marin International Airport;and in Old San Juan adja
cent to the ship terminal (Pier 1).
Getting Around
If you are limiting your visit to Old San Juan,then you can easily get
aroundonfoot,since this part of the city is relatively small.However,
it is hilly andshouldyouget tiredyoumight want totake a taxi or the
free shuttle bus that makes a circuit around Old San Juan.Both are
available at the cruise ship terminal.Also adjacent to the ship termi
nal is the inexpensive and frequently running passenger ferry going
to Cataño,for those who plan on visiting the Bacardi rum factory.
Taxis aren’t cheap,but they’re the best way to get around if you’re
going to be visiting other parts of San Juan.
For those with more time either before or after the cruise,who want
to explore other parts of the island,it is best to rent a car.However,
car rentals are not available at the cruise ship terminal.You’ll have to
make your way (probably by taxi) to either the resort hotels in
Condado Beach or to the airport.The former is closer and therefore
can save you some time and taxi fare.The Metropolitan Bus Author-
ity runs an extensive system of routes throughout San Juan.It only
costs 25¢,for instance,toget toCondadoBeachfromthe pier.Route
information is available at the tourist office by the ship terminal.
Local car rental agency:L&MCar Rental,(800) 666-0807.
One-Day Sightseeing Tour
Although many cruise travelers begin and end their voyage in San
Juan (thus giving them the opportunity to spend additional time
here either before or after the cruise),the first part of this discussion
will assume that youonly have the time for aday port call.At the con
clusion of the highlight tour,suggestions will be made for other
sightseeingactivities andexcursions.Day-visitors are limitednot only
by the total amount of time spent inSanJuan,but by the hours of the
visit.Many (although certainly not all) of the ships calling on San
Juan spend less than a full day here,with quite a fewarriving in the
late afternoon.This is because of the long sailing time involved from
either Miami or Ft.Lauderdale.In the latter case,you will be faced
with the prospect of many points of interest starting to close only a
Puerto Rico
few hours after your arrival.(Unlike many of the smaller ports,San
Juan’s attractions don’t tailor their schedules to the arrival and
departure of cruise ships.) Thus,if sightseeing in San Juan is of spe
cial importance toyou,youneedtopay careful attentiontoselecting
the proper cruise itinerary.
There is little doubt that the biggest concentration of things to see is
in OldSan Juan,and that is where I suggest you spend your port call
time.A compact area less than a mile square,Old San Juan dates
back tothe early 16thcentury.Its narrowstreets,blue-tiledbuildings
and Spanish-style architecture give it an especially alluring atmo
sphere.It is,today,largely a residential area but is dottedwithshops,
restaurants and many historical places of interest.
The single most popular attractionis the massive Fort SanFelipe del
Morro,more popularly known simply as El Morro Castle.Jutting
out on a promontory at the northwest corner of Old San Juan,con
struction on El Morro began in 1539.It was attacked on numerous
occasions,but has the distinctionof always havingbeenable torepel
the aggressors.Its multiple levels of gun batteries and ramparts are
impressive sights andit alsoaffords wonderful views of the approach
toSanJuanharbor.(Equally impressive is the viewof El Morroas your
shipapproaches fromthe sea.If it’s daytime whenyouarrive or leave
port,be sure to be out on deck.) Many rooms of the fort nowhouse
informative museumexhibits on the history of El Morro.One of the
more interesting parts of El Morro is the steep tunnel-like ramp,
which connects the upper and lower portions of the fort.It was used
totransport artillery andammunitionbetweenbatteries ondifferent
levels.You should allow 45 minutes at a bare minimumto visit the
fort,but much more if you’re a history buff,because this is,without
any doubt,one of the most magnificent structures of its type in the
world.It has been declared a UN World Heritage Site.$.
Since El Morro is at the opposite end of Old San Juan fromthe pier
and is at the top of a hill,it is a good idea to hop a cab to reach the
wide,grassy and often wind-swept park that is as close as vehicles
canget tothe fort’s entrance (about a five-minute walk).Afterwards,
you can work your way back through Old San Juan on foot.Even if
you’re not a fort enthusiast and will not be seeing it,taking a cab
there is still a good idea because it avoids the uphill exploration of
Old San Juan that would otherwise be required.
Fort San Cristóbal is another big fort about a mile to the east of El
Morro.However,if you’re ona day-visit,you’ll only have time for one
and El Morro is the better of the two.Both are part of the San Juan
National Historic Site,as are several other points of interest in Old
San Juan
San Juan.San Cristóbal has the same hours and admission cost as El
Just south of the park by El Morro is the Museo de las Américas.
Housed in a historic building,the museum has a collection of arti
facts and art works representing a wide variety of NewWorld native
cultures.There are both permanent and temporary exhibits,but
you’ll always find much of interest.Allowa minimumof 45 minutes
for your visit.Museum enthusiasts will need some additional time.
Open daily except Monday.It closes at 4 pm.
Practically across the street as you exit fromEl Morro is the Institute
of Puerto Rican Culture.An exhibit devoted to Indian culture occu
pies a separate floor.Unless you are very much into learning about
the cultural history of the places you’re visiting,it isn’t necessary to
visit both museums,especially if your time is limited.Open on week
Tothe southof the museums onCalle SanSebastiánis the interesting
Casa Blanca.The “White House” is one of several of San Juan’s
remaining fortified homes,erected when the threat of attack was
very real.It dates from 1521 and is built right into the walls of Old
San Juan for the famous explorer Ponce de León.He never lived
there,but his family did for 250 years.Many of the furnishings date
from the 16th and 17th centuries.The lovely grounds are also of
interest.A visit to Casa Blanca should take about a half-hour.Open
daily except Monday (closed between 11:45 am and 1 pm).$.
Now walk east down Calle San Sebastián and in a few short blocks
you’ll pass by the modernistic and attractive Plaza del Quinto
Centenario,which commemorates the 500th anniversary of Puerto
Rico in 1992.Turn right onto the Calle Cristo.This is a most interest
ing and attractive street whose buildings are typical of Old San Juan.
El Convento Hotel used to be a convent and is nowa hotel.Its out
door café is a nice place for a break.Onthe next block is the Catedral
de San Juan.It was originally built in 1540 and today’s structure is
essentially the same as it was back in the 16th century.The
Gothic-style edifice (a rare find in the Caribbean region) houses the
marble tomb of Ponce de León,as well as several notable religious
relics,including a Renaissance-era Madonna.Closes daily at 4 pm.
Continue south on Cristo for one more block and turn right onto
Calle Fortaleza.This street terminates at the end of the next block at
La Fortaleza,one of the prettiest places in Old San Juan.This is the
home of the Governor of PuertoRicoandis the oldest executive man
sionincontinuous use inthe WesternHemisphere.Infact,more than
150 governors have resided in this building going back more than
Puerto Rico
San Juan
400 years.That’s a lot of history for one place.The lovely tile-faced
house sits behind massive iron gates in a setting of gardens.Allow
about a half-hour for your visit.Open Monday through Friday until
3:30 pm.Garden tours are offered,but the schedule varies.
OnleavingLa Fortaleza,walk tothe left alongthe wall for twoblocks
uptoLaPuertade SanJuan(SanJuanGate).The 16-foot-highgate
is the only remaining example of the city’s original three gates.Con
structed in 1639,it is an impressive sight.Go through the gate and
turn to the left along the street known as the Paseo la Princesa.As
you wind your way downwards,you will always have Old San Juan’s
city walls (La Muralla) on your left and the harbor entrance on your
right.It makes for a pretty scene and this is the best way to get a
close-upviewof a large sectionof the walls.Youwouldhave togoto
Europe to see a better example of a walled city.
The promenade-like Paseo la Princesa is also the site of the Raices
Fountain.It is a symbol of the island’s heritage and a link to the
future,as it shows a ship reaching out toward the sea.Another of
San Juan’s many 500th anniversary commemorative monuments,
the fountain has the beautiful harbor as a backdrop.
A short walk farther on the Princesa will end at a busy little square
where the tourist office is located.Fromhere,you’re only a fewpaces
fromthe first of the many piers where the cruise ships will be lined
Other Attractions
Although the foregoing is likely to take up all of your available port
time,the following areas of interest can be done if you are embark
ing in San Juan and plan to spend additional time in San Juan either
before or after your cruise.As always,some of these can be substi
tuted for sights in the suggested day-tour.There are also some
cruises with day-stops in San Juan that are long enough to allowfor
some additional sights.
Still withinOldSanJuanis the Plaza de SanJosé,beginning
at the corner of Calles Cristo and San Sebastián,which con
tains a number of historic buildings and museums.The
square has a bronze statue of Ponce de León that was
forged from18th-century British cannons.The main points
of interest are the Pablo Casals Museum,the early
16th-century San José Church and the San Juan Museum
of Art & History.All closed on Monday,except the church,
which is closed on Thursday.$ for Pablo Casals Museum
only.If you visit all of the mentioned places,as well as some
of the other old houses in the Plaza,you can spend up to
two hours here.
The Bacardi Plant,in Cataño,is a popular visitor spot.No
doubt part of that is because of the free samples givenat the
end of the informative one-hour tour of the largest rumfac
tory in the world.To get there,take the ferry fromPier 2 ad
jacent to the cruise terminal and then hop a cab for the
five-minute ride tothe plant.Taxis are always waiting.Open
daily,except Sunday,with the last tour at 4:30 pm.It is
closed for about a month from mid-December to
Immediately to the east of Old San Juan is the famous
Condado Beach and its many resorts.An approximately
one-mile stretch of Ashford Avenue parallels the beach and
is home to more than a half-dozen major hotels,several of
whichhave casinos.If youwant toplay but stay closer tothe
cruise ship terminal,there is also a casino at the Wyndham
Old San Juan.This is only a block to the west of the piers.
Around the Island
These are suggested excursions for those who have additional time
in San Juan.Depending on what time your ship arrives in San Juan,
you may be offered the opportunity to join a shore excursion that
goes toone or more of these places,inlieuof seeingthe sights of Old
San Juan.Two interesting half- to full-day trips can be made,one to
the east of San Juan and one to the west.
Excursion 1
The shorter eastern excursion heads out fromSan Juan on Highway
3.Just past the town of Río Grande,take a right on Highway 186,
whichwill soonbringyouintothe CaribbeanNational Forest,more
commonly known as El Yunque.The forest’s highest peak is just
under 3,500 feet.The Forest is about 25 miles from San Juan.It is
home toa great variety of vegetationandits density will be a surprise
to those who are used to North American forests.There are also
countless rushing streams and many beautiful waterfalls,both large
and small.Specific points of interest within El Yunque are the El Por
tal Tropical Forest Center,the forest’s official visitor center near the
entrance (it has a nice nature trail in addition to the usual exhibits);
and the Yokahú Observation Tower that provides the single most
beautiful view of not only the forest but a good chunk of Puerto
Rico’s northern coast.
Puerto Rico
If you don’t mind a long (45-minute) but easy walk,then you should
also be sure to take the pretty Big Tree Trail that leads to La Mina
Falls.Allow about four hours for this excursion.Keep in mind that,
with more than 200 inches of rain a year,it is very likely that you will
encounter precipitation,if only the moisture drippingfromthe trees.
This should not deter your enjoyment,since this is,obviously,a rain
forest.If you have more time,you can continue on Route 3 through
Luquillo and Fajardo,where there’s a beautiful beach and a light
house.Alternatively,you can return via the slower coastal road
through Lóiza.This town is a great place to see the local residents
carve fabulously beautiful and complex masks fromcoconut shells.
Excursion 2
The second excursion goes toward the west,heading out along
Highway 2 for approximately 40 miles to Arecibo,a city of nearly
100,000 people.Fromjust belowtown,followHighway 10 south for
a short time to Highway 625,which will take you to the Arecibo
Observatory.Your visit begins at aninterestingvisitor center withall
sorts of educational exhibits andinteractive devices (childrenwill like
them).There is also a viewing platform,which allows a great look at
the observatory’s radio telescope,the largest of its type in the world.
Built into a natural sinkhole 565 feet deep,the telescope’s dish cov-
ers a mind-boggling 20 acres and weighs more than 600 tons.This
dish has been seen in many great science fiction movies,with good
reason – it’s simply out of this world to look at!Open Wednesday
through Sunday from noon (from 9 am on Saturday and Sunday)
until 4 pm.$.
Next,reverse your route on Highway 625 and bear left,following
signs to Highway 129 and the Rio Camuy Cave Park.The large park
contains one of the world’s longest underground rivers.Visitors are
taken by tram to the entrance of one of the caves,where guided
two-hour walkingtours begin.Althoughthe walks aren’t overly diffi
cult it is not recommended for the elderly or those who have prob
lems walking up steps.The colorful cavern contains many of the
formations generally foundinthese types of attractions,but the river
makes it more unusual.It is best to allow close to a full day for this
trip.As was the case with the trip to El Yunque,organized shore
excursions are generally available covering much of the same terri
tory.However,it is less expensive to rent a car and,as usual,you’ll be
able to cover more ground in the same amount of time.Open from
Wednesday through Sunday with last tour departing at 3:30 pm.
San Juan
In general,San Juan is not as much of a shopping destination as
many of the other Caribbeanports of call.This is not tosay that there
aren’t plenty of things to buy.But,in general,they are not better
buys thanyouwouldfindat home.Locally made rums andcigars can
be bought at comparatively low prices,however.The most popular
items are locally made crafts andfine arts.Some of the better-known
crafts made in Puerto Rico are linens,lace,hand-carved wooden fig
ures,masks and other decorative pieces of coconut husk or papier
mache.The Calle Fortaleza in Old San Juan is the most convenient
place to purchase these and many other goods.Local artisans also
display their wares on weekends at La Casita on Pier 1.
San Juan has the usual selection of shopping malls and fancy bou
tiques.The latter are especially concentrated in and around the
hotels at Condado and are pricey.When it comes to fine arts,there
are many galleries displaying the works of Puerto Rican artists.The
Calle Cristo in Old San Juan is the center of the small art district.
Sports &Recreation
As one of the Caribbean’s larger islands,PuertoRicohas a wide selec-
tion of fine beaches.In addition to the beach at Condado,you can
often find equally beautiful but less crowded stretches of sand away
from San Juan.These include Playa de Fajardo (a little past El
Yunque along Highway 3) and still a little farther past the US Naval
station at Roosevelt Roads.There you’ll find Playa de Naguabo and
Playa de Humacao.Should you happen to be on a more extended
tour of the island,there are also several good beaches in the south
western corner of the island fronting Bioluminescent Bay.
Unless you will be staying for some time in Puerto Rico,it is probably
best to arrange for diving and snorkeling through your cruise ship’s
excursion office.The best reasonably close places for diving are off
the northeastern coast around Fajardo.The waters here are pro
tectedby a coral reef.Biggame fishingis a well developedactivity on
the island and there are numerous operators to choose from.
Land-based sports that are the most readily available include golf
and tennis.Many of the better courses are associated with some of
the resort hotels on San Juan’s fringes,so you might want to con
sider staying at a hotel that offers golf to its guests.Day-visitors are
advised to see if a golf excursion is offered.Likewise,tennis is usually
found at hotels,but there are over a dozen public courts in San
Juan’s Central Park.
See the cost chart for shore activities onpage 117.
Puerto Rico
Trinidad &Tobago
Independent parliamentary nation and member of
the British Commonwealth.
Area:2,000 square miles.Trinidad,a portion of which is only seven
miles fromthe coast of Venezuela,is almost 16 times as large as
neighboring Tobago,which is 20 miles away.Trinidad measures about
90 miles across and about 70 miles fromnorth to south.Tobago Is 25
miles long and only six miles across.
National Tourist Office:Tourism& Industrial Development Company
of Trinidad and Tobago,Ltd.,
(888) 595-4868,
The island of Trinidad is the most southerly of any Caribbean island.
There is ample geological evidence that Trinidad was at one time
physically attached to South America.The larger island features
three ranges of lowmountains and hills that run fromeast to west,
with the highest point reaching 3,085 feet above sea level.Tobago,
on the other hand,is the peak of a single volcanic mountain,with a
maximum altitude of 1,800 feet.More than three-quarters of the
population is black African or East Indian,with the two groups hav-
ing about equal numbers.Most of the remainder is of mixed ethnic
origin,although there are small groups of Chinese,Middle Eastern
and Europeans.In a region of often mixed backgrounds,Trinidad is
one of the most cosmopolitan of all the islands.
The major industries are petroleumand natural gas,although sugar-
cane and other crops are still of importance.Tourism is becoming
important as well.Because of its smaller size and rougher terrain,
Tobago has never been as important economically,but its history is
still tied up with its bigger sister island.Trinidad was first sighted by
Columbus in 1498,but permanent Spanish settlement was not to
followfor almost 100 years.The Spanish managed to maintain con
trol most of the time,despite frequent attempts by the French and
Dutchtotake the island.The Britishwere successful intheir endeavor
to do so in 1797,with formal control being ceded to them by the
Treaty of Amiens in 1802.With the abolition of slavery in 1833,the
British plantation owners started bringing in large numbers of East
Indians of both Muslim and Hindu faiths,which accounts for the
present population mix.
The two islands were first united for administrative purposes in
1889.Independence came in 1962.Although progress was made,
the new state was faced with racial and ethnic hostilities and other
problems.These generally worked themselves out over the next 25
years and since 1990 the dual island nation has seen peace and
Trinidad & Tobago
growing prosperity.Their formof government is based both on Brit
ish and American models.
Port of Spain
This pleasant city of 53,000 people is a colorful and cosmopolitan
composite of the many groups that call it home.Its bustling market
places attract locals and visitors.From an architectural standpoint,
the city is dominated by houses of worship that span the variety of
faiths represented by the people of Trinidad.
All ships,including the largest in service,can pull up to the King’s
Wharf Cruise Ship Complex,which is located on Wrightson Road at
Independence Square,just a five-minute walk from downtown.
Head east on Independence Square North to get into the city center.
Making a left three blocks down at St.Vincent Street will take you
into the heart of downtown.
Tourist Information Office
The official tourist office is at 10-14Phillipps Street,but this isn’t par-
ticularly convenient for cruise ship passengers.Some information is
available at the cruise ship terminal.
Getting Around
Much of the central city is arranged in a grid pattern,so
self-negotiating a tour route is easy.It is also practical,as numerous
attractions within Port of Spain are close by and are best seen via a
walking tour.Taxis and buses are available for some of the farther
destinations aroundtownor if youshouldtire.The closest important
bus depot is in the Independence Square area.Head south on Broad
way one block from Independence Square South to South Quay.
Route maps and schedules are available at the depot.Taxis are easy
to get at the cruise ship terminal.For excursions around the island,a
rental car is much more convenient than relying on buses and will
work out cheaper than a taxi.
Local car rental agency:Southern Sales Car Rentals,
(868) 669-2424.
Trinidad & Tobago
Port of Spain
One-Day Sightseeing Tour
Because this is one of the larger of the Caribbean islands (and one
withalot tosee),it isn’t possible tosee everythinginasingle day.The
suggested itinerary concentrates on the city of Port of Spain,
although it allows some time for a short excursion to another part of
the island.An alternative itinerary is for those who would rather
spend their day outside the city.
Trinidad & Tobago
Suggested Itinerary
Walk east from the cruise ship terminal on Independence Square
North or South (these are two adjacent streets that both pass
throughalarge square of the same name).Inabout 10minutes you’ll
reach the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.Construction
of this large edifice began in 1816 and it took 35 years to complete.
Open daily,except between noon and 3:30 pm.
Reverse your route on Independence three blocks to Frederick Street
andturntothe right.Proceeda fewblocks toWoodfordSquare,the
heart of Port of Spain.On the south side of the Square is the Cathe
dral of the Holy Trinity.Interestingly,construction of this cathedral
started in the same year as the previous structure you visited.
Although this one took far less time to complete,it features much
more elaborate interior decoration.Also facing the Square is Trini
dad’s House of Representatives building,known as the Red House.
Besides the legislative function,the Red House contains many other
government offices.There aren’t any tours,but visitors are generally
free to walk around and explore.
Upon leaving the Woodford Square area,continue walking north on
Frederick Street until youreachthe National Museum&Art Gallery.
The first point of interest is outside the museum,where you will see
two cannons and an old ship’s anchor.The cannons are Spanish and
date fromthe latter part of the 18th century,while the anchor was
from one of Columbus’ ships.The interior exhibits are varied and
interesting.They range fromthe human and natural history of Trini-
dad to the island’s culture,arts and crafts.Perhaps the best part of
the collection is the colorful display of costumes that are typically
worn during Trinidad’s Carnival week.Since you probably won’t be
lucky enough to be here during the real thing (held the week before
Ash Wednesday),the displays are the next best option.The museum
is open daily except Sunday.
Beginning immediately north of the museum is Port of Spain’s
Queen’s Park Savanna.This large park (more than 200 acres) is not
only a pleasant place to stroll and admire the greenery,but it con
tains numerous wonderful examples of colonial-style architecture
from the 19th and early 20th centuries.These beautiful houses are
on the west side of the Savanna and are often referred to as the
“Magnificent Seven.” No two are alike in any way and one of them,
the Stollmeyer House,is a replica of a wing of Scotland’s famous
Balmoral Castle.
This tour should take you about four hours,including walking.You
canthenreturntothe ship(goback downFrederick toIndependence
andmake a right) for lunch.Afterwards,youshouldbeginyour after
noon itinerary around the island,using either car,bus or taxi.This
description,however,assumes you will be driving and that you will
have about four hours.The excursion heads south fromPort of Spain
via the Uriah Butler Highway.
Just south of the city is the Caroni Bird Sanctuary.It is a large tract
of marshy land that is home to Trinidad & Tobago’s fabulous
national bird,the scarlet ibis.You can take a motorized boat ride
through the many channels of the sanctuary.$$$-$$$$ depending
upon length of ride.Continuing south a few miles farther to the
town of Waterloo on the coast,you will be confronted by the
unusual sight of the Siewdass Sadhu Shiv Mander,a Hindu temple
built on a small island connected to Trinidad by a causeway measur
ing a fewhundred feet long.It is locally referred to as the Waterloo
Temple,because of its unwieldy Hindu name.Most of the construc
tion was done by a single individual.
FromWaterlooyou’ll have toreverse your route back toPort of Spain
if you want to get back in time for your ship’s departure.You can
avoid the possibility of that by doing the out-of-town portion first.
However,I didn’t suggest that as the primary route because the
attractions of Port of Spain are more important.
Alternative Itinerary
This itinerary is completely outside of Port of Spain and can take any-
where from five hours to a full day,depending upon recreational
stops.It is intended for those who like scenery and recreation more
than city sights.Begin by heading east from Port of Spain via the
Churchill-Roosevelt Highway (acontinuationof EasternMainRoadin
the city).
The first stop is a short detour off the highway to the Mt.St.Bene
dict Monastery.Then,at the town of Arima,head north via
Blanchisseuse Road to the Asa Wright Nature Centre.This former
coffee plantation is now devoted to conservation and education
about natural resources.Encompassing a small rain forest,the cen
ter has many birds and several nature trails of varying lengths and
difficulties wind through the forest.Upon leaving the Centre,con
tinue north on the same road until you reach the North Coast Road.
This highly scenic route skirts the mountaintops as it winds its way
back toward Port of Spain.Along the way,you’ll pass many pretty
bays andcoves,most of whichare goodfor water sports.Amongthe
best is Maracas Bay.
Trinidad & Tobago
Other Attractions
Emperor Valley Zoo ($) and the Royal Botanic Garden are
both in the extreme northern section of Port of Spain’s Sa
vanna Park.While the zooisn’t one of the great animal parks
of the world,it is a goodplace tovisit if youhave youngchil
dren.On the other hand,the 70-acre gardens are home to a
wide variety of tropical flora.The home of Trinidad’s presi
dent is adjacent tothe gardens but is not opentothe public.
Scenic views of Port of Spain can be had from Fort
George,less than three miles fromthe city via Fort George
It should be noted that day-trips from Port of Spain to Tobago by
boat aren’t possible due to the distance and schedule.Air connec
tions are available but are extremely expensive and,unless you have
already been to Trinidad,you’re better off staying put,since there’s
much more to see and do on the bigger island.Fewships call directly
on Tobago.For those that do,arrival is in the town of Scarborough.
See the Less-Visited Ports section at the end of this chapter.
Although there’s a sizable mall on Wrightson Road just by the cruise
ship terminal,the place to shop while in Port of Spain is along down-
town’s Frederick Street.Many experienced shoppers consider this
the best place to buy luxury imported goods in the entire southern
Caribbean region.The various shops range from tacky souvenir
places to chic boutiques and often have an exotic atmosphere,in
keeping with the city’s cosmopolitan nature.European imports
include perfumes,cameras and watches,along with fine clothing.
The latter is mostly fromEngland and Ireland.There are also a large
number of stores specializing in Oriental goods such as jewelry,
brass,ivory andsilk.Trinidadshoppingisn’t limitedtoimportedmer
chandise.Locally made products include hand-carved wood items,
beautiful ceramic and tile products,straw,and jewelry of gold,silver
or copper.The island nation is also well known for its quality rum,
which can be bought at bargain prices.
Sports &Recreation
There are some fine beaches on Trinidad’s east coast,but these are
generally too far to allow day-visitors much time for anything else.
Therefore,try for the beaches along the closer north shore.Those at
adjacent Maracas Bay and Las Cuevas Bay are excellent.The for
mer,especially,receives high marks from just about everyone who
visits it.Several reefs alongthe northshore are alsogoodfor snorkel
ing or scuba diving,but the main water activity in Trinidad is proba
bly fishing.Your cruise ship is almost certain to offer a fishing
Less-Visited Ports
Scarborough (Tobago Island)
The highlights of Scarborough include the native market (Friday
andSaturdays only) andthe ruins of OldFort KingGeorge.Included
within the fort is the Tobago Museum.Nearby is the Rockery Vale,
a former sugar estate that is nowthe home of a fine botanical garden
covering17acres.Tenmiles west of Scarboroughis Crusoe’s Cave.It
was named for Daniel Defoe’s famous character,Robinson Crusoe,
although it has nothing at all to do with it.Adrive along the Atlantic
coastal road of Tobago is also rewarding.
USVirgin Islands
Outlying territory of the United States.
Area:134 square miles.St.Thomas is the island with the most people
and the most visitors,although it is smaller than St.Croix and only
marginally larger than St.John.
Tourist Office:US Virgin Islands Department of Tourism,
372-8784, or
Comprising three main islands (St.Thomas,St.John and St.Croix)
and about 50 smaller islands,most of which are uninhabited,the US
Virgin Islands are hilly or have small mountains,with Crown Moun
tain on St.Thomas reaching an altitude of 1,556 feet.
The islands have a large degree of internal autonomy,withtheir own
elected legislature and governor.The governor was formerly
appointed by Washington,but has been locally elected since 1968.
Residents of the US Virgin Islands are citizens of the United States.
They have a delegate to the US House of Representatives,who can
not vote,however.
The islands were first discoveredduring Columbus’ secondvoyage in
1493.The Spaniards settledit andannihilatedthe native population.
The Danes took control in 1666,first through the Danish West Indies
US Virgin Islands
Company and then as a crown colony.It was briefly occupied on sev
eral occasions by the British during various phases of European con
flicts.When the sugarcane plantation economy severely declined
after the abolition of slavery in 1848,the Danes quickly lost interest
in their colony.After years of negotiations,it was sold to the United
States in1917for $25million.Althoughthere is some industry,tour
ismis the dominant force in the economy.St.Thomas is one of the
most popular destinations in the Caribbean.
St.Thomas (Charlotte Amalie)
The island of St.Thomas has an east-to-west dimension of about 14
miles and is only four miles wide.Just about everyone (including the
cruise lines) calls the port St.Thomas but the true name of the port is
Charlotte Amalie.This is boththe capital andlargest city of the island
of St.Thomas and of the US Virgin Islands as a whole.St.Thomas,
and especially Charlotte Amalie,has the distinction of being exotic,
without taking it to an extreme.Everyone speaks English and things
that are familiar to you at home will also be easily found in Charlotte
Amalie.On the other hand,there is a distinctively foreign atmo-
sphere that begins with the many Danish architectural influences
going back to the late 17th century and extending to the way of life
found in the Caribbean islands.
The setting of Charlotte Amalie is also a plus.Situated in a beautiful
natural harbor,the town seems to climb up the slopes of the moun-
tains that begin just a few blocks fromthe shore.
St.Thomas has an excellent port called Havensight.Although it is
more thana mile fromthe center of town,there’s plenty of transpor
tation available if you don’t want to walk.In addition,there are
extensive shopping and other facilities adjacent to the pier in the
Havensight Mall.The dock can accommodate about three major
cruise ships at one time.If there are more than that many ships in
port at one time (a distinct possibility),then you may have to anchor
in the harbor.If so,tenders will take you directly into the heart of
Charlotte Amalie,rather than to Havensight.
Tourist Information Office
1 Tolbod Gade,just off of Veterans Drive in central Charlotte Amalie.
Limitedtourisminformationis alsoavailable at the Havensight pier.
St.Thomas (Charlotte Amalie)
US Virgin Islands
St.Thomas (Charlotte Amalie)
Getting Around
It is about a mile from Havensight to downtown Charlotte Amalie.
You can walk along the waterfront via Long Bay Road,which
becomes Veteran’s Drive as it enters Charlotte Amalie itself.Other
alternatives are to hop into a taxi or take the frequently running
open-sidedsafari buses,whichwill transport youfromdowntownto
Havensight for only $2 per person.It is much easier to negotiate
downtownonfoot rather thanby car.Traffic is heavy,streets are nar
row,andthere isn’t muchparking.However,once youget outside of
Charlotte Amalie it is much better to have your own set of wheels,
rather than relying on guided excursions.Taxis are another alterna
tive,although it will probably be cheaper to rent a car.There is also
bus service tosome of the more popular beaches andattractions,but
this tends to take a lot more time,something that may be in short
supply on a one-day visit.
Local car rental agencies:Dependable Car Rental,(800)
522-3076;Discount Car Rental, (340) 776-4858.
One-Day Sightseeing Tour
Because of traffic considerations in Charlotte Amalie,it is best to
divide your tour into two parts.The first order of business is to rent a
car (or arrange other transportation) and see the sights of the island.
Then you can come back to town,drop off the car and use foot
power to tour Charlotte Amalie.You could,of course,reverse the
sequence.If driving,remember that you must keep to the left when
in the Virgin Islands,although the steering wheel will be on the left
as at home.
Touring the Island
Begin your day-trip fromHavensight via Highway 313 for about one
mile to Highway 38.Turn right and proceed eight miles to the junc
tion of Highway 388.This short road ends by the sea at Coral World,
one of the island’s premier attractions.Situated on pretty Coki Point
(where you’ll also find a good beach if that interests you more than
touring),Coral World is a most interesting five-acre marine center
that is fun and educational for all ages.The Caribbean Reef Encoun
ter is an 80,000-gallon aquarium,where you’ll be able to see a large
variety of local marine life.It’s very colorful and many of the speci
mens are quite large.The Marine Gardens contain a number of
smaller tanks.Of great interest is the Underwater Observatory,a
three-level facility that allows you to see the real reef environment
without actually entering the water.One level is an enclosed tank,
where large predators are housed.Fromthe top of the tower,there
are pleasant views of the Coki Point areaandadjacent small islands.
US Virgin Islands
Also on the grounds are several trails,touch pools and the Shark
Shallows.The sharks are fed twice a day and there are numerous
other feedings invarious facilities throughout Coral World.Times are
conspicuously posted.
Finally,for a different kind of adventure,try Sea Trekkin’.This walk
under the sea features SNUBA.Participants are fitted with a helmet,
through which air is pumped fromthe surface.You are then led on a
guided trail outside the Underwater Observatory,so that you can
experience the marine life first hand.You can even feed the fish.It
does not require snorkeling or scuba experience to SNUBA.$$$ for
park entry;additional $$$$ for Sea Trekkin’.Reservations for the lat
ter are suggested and participants must be at least seven years of
Allowabout an hour to visit Coral World,but at least double that if
youintendtogoSea Trekkin’.That will,of course,require cuttingout
one or more other attractions on this tour if you want to get back to
the ship on time!
From Coral World you can embark on a little scenic tour of St.
Thomas by making your way back on Highway 38 to Highway 42,
where you should turn right.Ashort distance later at the junction of
Highway 40,bear left andfollow40 tothe junctionof Highway 35.A
right turn here will immediately bring you to Drake’s Seat.Located
near the highest point of the mountain range that traverses all of St.
Thomas,the view from this point is toward the north and covers a
large portion of the island,as well as several small off-shore islands.
On clear days you can even see parts of the nearby British Virgin
Then continue on Highway 40 for a short distance to the Estate St.
Peter Greathouse &Gardens.The property was once a large planta
tion.The restored manor house is now used mainly as a corporate
retreat,but visitors can view the Caribbean art works on display in
the three-room house.Of more interest are the many acres of gar
dens,with lush vegetation and colorful flowers.A series of trails,
woodendecks andstairs interconnect the multi-leveledproperty and
provide excellent views of surrounding islands.$$.Plan on spending
about 45 minutes wandering around.
Alittle farther up the road is the cutoff for the short but winding ride
to Mountain Top.Part of the same mountain range as Drake’s Seat,
the slightly higher and more centrally positioned Mountain Top
affords vistas in every direction.Highways 40 and 35 will return you
to the vicinity of Charlotte Amalie.
St.Thomas (Charlotte Amalie)
US Virgin Islands
Two former pirate residences on the outskirts of Charlotte Amalie
seemtobe a sort of a pilgrimage site for visitors.Eachof themis now
a hotel with fancy prices,but both offer good views so,if you find
yourself with some time,it will be worthwhile to visit one of them.
Blackbeard’s Castle (on Blackbeard’s Hill just east of downtown) is
the three-story round tower that is all that remains of a once bigger
complex.It is one of the more prominent landmarks on St.Thomas.
Althoughthere is muchevidence that Blackbearddidoccupy the cas
tle at one time,it is almost certain(despite the colorful legends tothe
contrary) that the Danes were actually the ones who built it.It was
probably part of the larger defensive works of Fort Christian.Blue
beard’s Castle (on Bluebeard’s Hill due north of downtown) was
most likely built by an early island resident,although it is fairly well
documented that Bluebeard did live here.
Charlotte Amalie
Upon coming back to Charlotte Amalie,the first thing you should do
is return your rental car.As the trip around the island will have taken
approximately 4½ hours (including travel time),you should have,
dependinguponthe lengthof your port call,anywhere fromthree to
five hours more to explore Charlotte Amalie,including time for
FromHavensight it is only about one block along Long Bay Road to
one of St.Thomas’ most popular attractions – the Paradise Point
Tramway.A four-minute ride in a train-like gondola ascends 700
feet to Paradise Point.At the top are spectacular views that encom-
pass the Havensight docks,the harbor,Charlotte Amalie and much
of St.Thomas and beyond.You’ll be able to get a great bird’s-eye
view of your cruise ship.If three ships are lined up,it is a sight that
you’ll never forget,not that the rest of the viewis anything less than
wonderful.There are hiking trails at the top although they are rather
difficult.Trained bird shows are held a couple of times daily (usually
one inthe morningandone inthe afternoon).Call (340) 774-9806
for show times.$$$.Plan on spending no longer than about one
hour at Paradise Point (unless you wish to do some hiking at the top
andforgoseeingother sights),soyou’ll still have uptothree hours to
complete the downtown walking tour of Charlotte Amalie.
See the cost chart for shore activities onpage 117.
The walking tour begins along busy Veteran’s Drive at the corner of
Fortlet Strade.(If you were unwise enough to try and drive into
downtown Charlotte Amalie,leave your car at the public parking lot
here.) Alongside the waterfront is the Virgin Islands Legislative
Building.The tacky green color building is more than 120 years old
and was originally a Danish military barracks.You can walk in on
weekdays.Directly across the street is historic Fort Christian.The
distinctive red structure was built by the Danish in 1672.The interior
no longer looks too much like a fort,but some of the rooms have
mildly interesting exhibits on the native Arawak and Carib tribes,as
well as some items that go back to the early Danish settlers.Open
Monday through Friday.
To the immediate northwest of Fort Christian is Emancipation Gar
dens Park,which commemorates the abolition of slavery in the Vir
gin Islands in 1847.There is a replica of the Liberty Bell.Leave the
park on the Tolbad Gade side and turn right.Proceed for a short dis
tance,passing the quaint and much-photographed 19th-century
Grand Hotel,until you reach Droningens Gade (also known as Main
Street) and make a right.One of the first things you’ll pass is the his
toric Frederick LutheranChurch,especially notable because it is the
second-oldest Lutheran congregation in the entire world.
Turn left on Lille Tarne Gade.At the end of this block at the Kongens
Gade is the Government House.This is where the islands’ governor
resides and portions of the house are open,so you can see a series of
three murals depicting significant events in the history of the Virgin
Islands.Followthe Kongens Gade west and in a block you’ll find the
base of the famous 99 Steps.As every visitor must learn,there are
actually 103 steps if you actually bother to ascend and count them.
Apparently there was some fuzzy math way back in the old days.
Actually,the 99Steps is only one of several suchstaircases inthis part
of hilly Charlotte Amalie.Continue on the Kongens Gade,circling
around the park and coming back out on the Droningens Gade at
Post Office Alley.
Nowyou’re ready to shop or combine some shopping and sightsee
ing.Details on what to buy and where to buy it are in the Shopping
section,but this will provide you with an orientation as to how the
shopping area is laid out.The major portion of Charlotte Amalie’s
extensive shopping district is between the Droningens Gade on the
north and Veterans Drive on the south (at the waterfront).Fromeast
to west,it runs from Post Office Alley (one block west of Tolbod
Gade) to Trompeter Gade,a distance of five blocks.A good way to
end the shopping tour (and your visit to Charlotte Amalie) is at the
colorful Vendors Plaza at Veterans Drive and Tolbod Gade.
US Virgin Islands
Other Attractions
Atlantis Submarine:See pages 125-26 for details.(800)
887-8571or locally,(340) 776-5650.Call for exact schedule,
which varies depending upon season and cruise ship traffic.
$$$$.Allow 1½hours for the entire submarine adventure.
Located in Building VI of the Havensight Mall.$$$$.
An Excursion to St.John:There is ferry service approxi
mately every two hours from Charlotte Amalie to Cruz Bay
on the lightly populated and far less visited neighboring is
landof St.John.It is possible torent vehicles at Cruz Bay but,
overall,it is easier to take a guided shore excursion if you
plan to visit St.John.In fact,if you take a guided excursion
offered by the cruise line,your ferry will depart from the
Havensight pier and take you directly to Cruz Bay,a small
town at the western edge of St.John.It is a very scenic ride
that takes about a half-hour.Most of St.John island is part
of the Virgin Islands National Park.The most popular ex-
cursions include a safari bus tour of the scenic highlights of
the park.Various options also allow time for going to the
beach,snorkelingandother recreational activities.SNUBAis
also available on St.John.Although you aren’t allowed to
feed the fish here,it does have a nicer coral reef to explore
thanthe one at Coral World.It is operatedby the same folks.
$$$$.Typical excursions to St.John take about five hours,
includingthe round-tripferry ride,soyoucanmanage tosee
some things in St.Thomas as well.However,most first-time
visitors will probably find more to see and do by remaining
on St.Thomas.
St.Thomas is reputed to be the shopping capital of the islands.You
would certainly be hard-pressed to find a greater concentration of
shops andvendors thaninCharlotte Amalie.Muchof the shoppingis
now located in the historic warehouses of the Royal Dane Mall
(along Droningens Gade/Main Street) that go back to the era of Dan
ish control of the island.It is easy and fun to wander fromone block
to another throughout the shopping district as outlined in the sight
seeingtour.Besides the mall,the best place toshopis at the Vendors
Plaza,opposite the waterfront on Veterans Drive.The Havensight
Mall,at the cruise shipterminal,has more than60stores inanumber
of buildings featuring just about anything you could ever want or
St.Thomas (Charlotte Amalie)
imagine.Prices here tend to be a little higher than in downtown
Charlotte Amalie,but youcan’t beat the convenience of the location.
Among the most popular goods that visitors will find in Charlotte
Amalie are china (including such famous names as Royal Copenha
gen and Wedgwood),crystal,English and Scottish apparel,along
withlocally made apparel (andby that I don’t meana souvenir T-shirt
saying“USVirginIslands” onit),perfumes,silver,andSwiss watches.
There are also good buys on liqueurs and rums produced in the Vir
gin Islands.Locally made handicrafts are also in demand and include
suchitems as baskets,dolls,all kinds of fine embroideredgoods,and
Some of the more notable shopping establishments for silver and
jewelry are Cardow,Diamond International and H.
Stern-Jewelers.Each of these has at least two locations along
Droningens Gade.All except H.Stern also have another outlet
behind the main parking area along Veteran’s Drive.But perhaps the
best known name is Little Switzerland.Headquartered in St.
Thomas,this respected chain has locations throughout the Carib-
bean.Their main store is in the heart of things at 5 Dronningens
Gade,although they also have a branch at the Havensight pier shop-
ping complex.
Sports &Recreation
Although true sports enthusiasts will usually head for St.John or St.
Croix,rather than St.Thomas,for the best in snorkeling and diving,
there is much high-quality outdoor recreation available on this
island.(If you take an excursion to St.John,there are some options
available that allow time for going to the beach or snorkeling.
Inquire at your cruise ship’s excursion office for details.) On St.
Thomas itself many of the beaches can be used as snorkeling and
scuba sites as well.The Coki Point Beach,adjacent to Coral World,is
considered the number-one dive site on St.Thomas.And don’t for
get about SNUBAat Coral World,as was describedin the sightseeing
section.Many other coves and small bays are good for snorkeling,
suchas those aroundHassel Island,ashort ferry ride fromdowntown
Charlotte Amalie and part of the Virgin Islands National Park.
Good beaches,besides Coki Point,are Frenchman Bay,
Morningstar Bay,LindberghBay andBrewers Bay (all onthe south
shore);and St.John Bay,Hull Bay and Magens Bay (on the north
shore).The latter is consideredby many experts tobe one of the most
beautiful beaches in the entire world.
US Virgin Islands
Fishing and boating of all kinds are also popular options,either by
shore excursion or on your own.There are plenty of operators both
at Havensight and along the waterfront in downtown Charlotte
Amalie.Bicycling on the steep hills of St.Thomas can be a delightful
way tosee the island.Try the St.Thomas MountainBike Adventure
for a 90-minute tour of the north shore,including the scenic Magens
Bay area.Call (340) 776-1727for reservations.Similarly,horseback
riding makes for a good way to explore.Among the operators are
Half Moon Stables, (340) 777-6088.
National Tourist Office:There is no official government tourist office
in the United States,but you can contact the Venezuelan Tourism
(415) 331-0100;or e-mail themat
Isla de Margarita
Only about 25 miles from the Venezuelan mainland,the beautiful
Isla de Margarita isn’t newon the vacation scene.Inhabited by west-
erners for more than 400 years,it has been a favorite place for South
Americans for some time.Recent years have seen a tremendous rise
in international tourism.Although it is still rather infrequently called
uponby cruise ships,one cansay that it has been“discovered” by the
cruise industry and it is likely to become increasingly popular.This
will be even more true in a few years when additional port facilities
are constructed.
Isla de Margarita is roughly 40 miles fromeast to west and about 20
miles fromnorth to south.Its total area is approximately 415 square
miles,making it the largest of Venezuela’s offshore Caribbean
islands.A narrow sand isthmus connects the eastern and western
sections of what were once separate islands.Almost all of the
island’s nearly 350,000 residents live in the bigger eastern section,
including over 200,000 in Porlamar.The nearby town of La Asunción
has only about 20,000 residents,but is the capital of the state of
Nueva Esparta,which comprises Isla de Margarita and two smaller
The island is quite mountainous,although none of its peaks exceeds
3,000feet inelevation.Beaches andthe water sports associatedwith
themare the island’s main claimto fame,but shopping is also a big
business.It would,however,be a shame to come here and just shop
Isla de Margarita
or loll around on the beach,for the island has some most interesting
natural and historical points of interest.
The cruise ship port is called Puerto de la Mar and is on the island’s
southeastern shore.It is a fewmiles fromPorlamar,the island’s larg
est city.Presently,only the first phase of the port development pro
ject is complete,sotender service will be requiredfor at least the next
several years.
Tourist Information Office
The government-run tourism office is on a road leading from
Porlamar and is not convenient for cruise ship passengers.Limited
information is available at the dock.In Porlamar there is a private
tourist office at the point where the Calle Zamora turns into Avenida
Santiago Mariño,just east of the Río El Valle,which divides the city
center into two areas.
Getting Around
Taxi and bus transportation is available into Porlamar.If you are
goingtobe spendingmost of your time inPorlamar,youcanwell get
around on foot once you get there,supplemented by taxis,should
you tire of walking.However,since the real charm of Isla de
Margarita is outside the city,car or bus transportation will be
If you decide not to take a guided shore excursion,then you can hop
on a mini-bus in Porlamar to get to most of the nearby beaches.
Rental cars are available but mostly at the airport.You can also get a
car if you make your way to Porlamar and go to Avenida Santiago
MariñoandCalle Igualdad,about eight blocks east of the city center.
Again,due to development at Puerto de la Mar,this is in a state of
flux.You can take your chances and make arrangements upon
arrival,but for the next fewyears it is probably a good idea to go the
shore excursion route if you plan to explore the island.
One-Day Sightseeing Tour
The central business district of Porlamar doesn’t have that much to
offer visitors,other than shopping.It is one of the main areas in the
island for hotels and so you will see plenty of visitors.The attractive
Plaza Bolivar is the historical heart of the city and its many trees
make it a good place to relax for a few minutes and get your bear
ings.On the plaza’s east side is the cathedral.It is not especially
notable,but is worth a fewminutes of your time.Walking east from
the plaza on Calle Igualdad for four blocks will bring you across the
river called Río El Valle and to the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo.
The large structure houses a collection of sculptures and paintings
done by Francisco Narváez,who just happens to be the most famous
son of Isla de Margarita.The second floor of the museum houses
changing exhibits.
As seeing the aforementionedareas will take a maximumof an hour,
you should have the better part of the day to take in the sights of the
island.Roads aren’t that well marked,so it is a good idea to have an
excellent map if you’re going to be setting out on your own.
Take the main road north from Porlamar and you’ll soon reach El
Valle del Espíritu Santo,a small town made famous as the home of
the “miraculous Virgin of the Valley,” the statue first brought here in
the early part of the 16th century.The Basilica de Nuestra Señora
del Valle is where you can see the statue,but of more interest is the
lovely Gothic-style basillica itself,with its pink and white coloring.A
museum is right behind the church and contains many objects
related to the statue.Closed between noon and 2 pm,Sunday after-
noons and all day on Monday.
On the opposite side of the church is the Casa Museo Santiago
Mariño,a name you might already recognize from a street in
Porlamar.Mariño is a national hero of Venezuela’s War of Independ-
ence and the large mansion has been nicely restored to its original
18th-century appearance.The lovely gardens that surround the
house are also worth visiting.Closes at 2 pm on weekends.$.
Continuing north on the main road from El Valle and passing
throughthe pretty ParqueNacional CerroEl Copey(whichcontains
the island’s highest point),you’ll soon reach La Asunción.The main
plaza is the location of the Catedral,a lovely,mostly Renais
sance-style,edifice that is one of Venezuela’s oldest colonial struc
tures.The plaza is alsohome tothe MuseoNuevaCádiz,whichhas a
collection of regional artifacts.Of most interest are exhibits related
to the town of Nueva Cádiz,which was located on a nearby island
and was destroyed by an earthquake in 1541.Closed on Monday.$.
Another museum around the plaza has changing cultural exhibi
The Castillo de Santa Rosa is one of only a couple of the remaining
original seven forts that were built on the island to protect it from
Isla de Margarita
pirates.On a hill just outside of town,it offers fine views,as well as a
small exhibit of old armor.Closed on Monday.$.
A six-mile drive east fromLa Asunción will bring you to Pampatar at
the extreme southeasternedge of the island.Another oldfort is here,
but this one is the best preservedof the oldsites.Completedin1684,
the Castillo de San Carlos Borromeo is a very fine example of Span
ish military design fromthis era.Many of the fort’s rooms have been
converted into exhibit areas,which will give you an excellent idea of
military life at that time.The fort’s location on the waterfront in the
heart of town also makes it a great place for picture-taking.Closed
Monday and daily between noon and 2 pm.$.
A small church opposite the entrance to the fort is also of interest
because of its historic artifacts.Even if you are not a beach-goer,a
walk along the beach in the vicinity of the fort is a goodidea because
of its excellent vistas.This includes the fine viewfromthe top of the
ruins of another fort.By this time,you will probably have to get back
to your ship,so take the main road from Pampatar heading in a
southwesterly direction back to Porlamar.It is a drive of less than 10
Other Attractions
The route suggested above is roughly a circle and makes for a conve-
nient day of sightseeing without much driving.However,the west-
ern side of the island wasn’t visited and this area does have one
important attraction that you might want to substitute for some of
the ones above.That is the Parque Nacional Lagunade laRestinga.
This large reserve on the island’s north side consists of a pretty
lagoon andmangrove.As such,it is the home for many birds,includ
ing the beautiful scarlet ibis.Pelicans are also numerous.Roads to
the park aren’t that good and are almost non-existent within it.
Therefore,you might consider taking a bus fromPorlamar or,better
yet,a guided tour.It is much more likely that you will get to see
something worthwhile if you visit on a tour.Most tours are about a
half-day long,so you could still manage to do some other sightsee
ing if you visit the park.
The Isla de Margarita is a duty-free zone,which seems to automati
cally qualify it as a shopping destination,even if there aren’t a great
many good buys.Shopping is concentrated in Porlamar.The best
buys are considered to be in the old section of town in one of two
pedestrian malls.Both are near the Plaza Bolivar on adjacent blocks,
the Blvd.Gómez and the Blvd.Guevara.More expensive shops and
often better-quality merchandise can be found on Avenida Santiago
Mariño.Frequently,street vendors alsoset upshopalongthis street.
Finally,for a shoppingexperience that is more stateside innature,try
the Ciudad Comercial Jumbo,a multi-level shopping center whose
name translates as the Big City of Commerce.It is on Avenida 4 de
Mayo,about one mile northeast fromthe plaza.Just about anything
you want can be purchased on Isla de Margarita but the most popu
lar items seemto be clothing,jewelry,electronics and alcoholic bev
Sports &Recreation
The beach is the thing on Isla de Margarita and,depending upon
how you count them,there are somewhere between 50 and 75 of
themto choose from.The more developed ones have lots of services
available (ranging from chair rental to full-service restaurants).The
northeastern coast is where the best beaches are found.They aren’t
that longaride fromPorlamar or the port.Bus transportationis avail-
able if you want to go on your own,but every cruise ship calling here
will have excursions to the beaches.The most popular beach is the
beautiful two-mile long Playa del Agua.It is among the most devel-
oped and,therefore,always quite crowded.Other good choices in
the vicinity are Playa Gucucotothe south,or Playa PuertoCruz and
Playa Manzanillo,both to the north of El Agua around the island’s
northerntip.Playa Parguito,adjacent toPlaya El Agua is knownas a
good surfing spot.Windsurfing is also popular on the island and if
this is your bag then you shouldheadstraight for the Playa El Yaque
to the southwest of Porlamar on the south shore.Wind conditions
here are considered to be almost ideal for windsurfing.
See the cost chart for shore activities onpage 117.
Less-Visited Ports
La Guaira
This is the port for the nearby capital city of Caracas.The two cities
are connected by an excellent highway,so not much time is wasted
in travel.Caracas has many fine museums (art,history and culture),
as well as a branch of the Murano glass factory.This wouldn’t be a
surprise if you hadknown that Venezuela actually means “Little Ven
ice” in Spanish.Optional trips into the interior are available if you
Less-Visited Ports
don’t want to stay in the city.Famous Angel Falls can be reached by
an expensive air excursion.
Puerto Ordaz
The broad Orinoco River heads inland from the Gulf of Paria and is
navigable for a distance of more than 250 miles.While no cruise
ships make the full journey,some do go as far as Puerto Ordaz.The
city doesn’t have that much to see,but the journey itself is the thing,
as both shores of the river are dense jungle.Depending upon how
much time is actually spent at Puerto Ordaz,you can opt to take a
flightseeingtour tofabulous Angel Falls or a land-basedexcursionto
historic Ciudad Bolivar.
Other Ports
These fewremaining places will wrap up the remainder of the ports
bordering the Caribbean that are currently visited by any cruise ship.
Keep in mind that newports can always spring up once one or more
cruise lines decide that it may be a ripe area for development.
Santo Tomás de Castilla
Nestled along the Gulf of Honduras on Guatemala’s short Caribbean
coast,the town dates from the early years of the 20th century and
was built by the United Fruit Company to house plantation workers.
Today it is a gateway for visiting some of the southernmost of the
Mayanruins.LakeIzabal,surroundedby mountains,is ascenic high
light of the area.
Isla de Roatán
This is one of the “Bay Islands,” situated some 30 miles off the coast
of Honduras.Roatán is both the name of the island and its largest
town.It is a very pretty place,but its main claimto fame is the excel
lent snorkeling and diving opportunities around the coral reefs that
surround the island.
Other Ports
Puerto Cortés
This small city is the port for the larger inlandcity of SanPedroSula.It
has a pretty location on a small peninsula that separates the Gulf of
Honduras fromOmoa Bay.Although there aren’t many things to see
in the city itself,it makes a good base for an all-day excursion to the
excellent Mayan site of Copán,where some of the best examples of
their sculpture are on display.
Altos de Chavon,Dominican Republic,
Ambergris Caye,Belize,151
Angel Falls,Venezuela,287
Arecibo Observatory,Puerto Rico,265
AsaWright Nature Center,Trinidad,272
Atlantis Paradise Resort,Bahamas,
Atlantis Submarine:Aruba,125,126;
Curaçao,184;Grand Cayman,161;
Audubon House & Tropical Gardens,
AyoRock Formations &IndianDrawings,
Bacardi Plant,Puerto Rico,264
Bahamas:Castaway Cay,142;Coco Cay,
143;Freeport (Port Lucaya),130-35;
Great Stirrup Cay,143;Half-Moon
129-30;Princess Cays,143
Balashi Gold Smelter Ruins.Aruba,122
Baron Bliss Tomb,Belize,147
142,143;Colombia,167;Costa Rica,
175;Curaçao,185;Dominican Repub
Belize:Belize City,145-51;map,144;
Belize City,Belize:arrival,145;getting
one-day sightseeing tour,147-48;
other attractions,148-49;overview,
145;shopping,151;sports and recre
ation,151;tourist information office,
Blackbeard’s Castle,St.Thomas,277
The Blow Holes,Grand Cayman,162
Bluebeard’s Castle,St.Thomas,281
Blue Lagoon,Jamaica,223
Boat tours:Florida,200;Mexico,229
Bushiribana Ruins,Aruba,123
Butterfly Farm,Aruba,124
around,227;one-day sightseeing
tour,227-28;other attractions,
229-30;sports andrecreation,230-31;
tourist information office,227
map,2;people and culture,5-6
Caribbean National Forest (El Yunque),
Puerto Rico,264
Carriage rides:Bahamas,135,141;
Dominican Republic,195
Cartagena,Colombia:getting around,
165;one-day sightseeing,165-66;
other attractions,167;overview,
sports and recreation,167;tourist
information office,165
Casa Blanca,Puerto Rico,262
Casa de Campo,Dominican Republic,
Casa de Montejo,Mexico,246
Casibari Rock Formations &IndianDraw
133,139;Puerto Rico,264
Catalina Island,Dominican Republic,
Republic,192;Grand Cayman,161;
Mexico,249;Puerto Rico,265;Tobago,
Caye Caulker,Belize,151
Cayman Brac,Cayman Islands,162
Cayman Islands:Grand Cayman (George
CaymanTurtle Farm,GrandCayman,160
Centers for Disease Control,96
Charlie’s Bar,Aruba,126
Charlotte Amalie,St.Thomas,275-82
Churches,cathedrals and chapels:Aruba,
123;Colombia,165,166;Costa Rica,
173,175;Dominican Republic,188,
211,222;Mexico,246;Puerto Rico,
Cockpit Country,Jamaica,213
Colbeck Castle,Jamaica,208
100-101;San Andrés Island,168;Santa
around,253-54;one-day sightseeing
tour,254;other attractions,255;over-
sports and recreation,255;tourist
information office,253
Coral Island Underwater Observatory &
Marine Park,Bahamas,141
Coral World,St.Thomas,277-78
Costa Maya,Mexico:arrival,231;getting
around,231-32;one-day sightseeing
tour,232-33;other attractions,
sports and recreation,234;tourist
information office,231
Costa Rica:map,169;overview,168;
Puerto Limón,168-75
around,236;map,235;one-day sight
seeing tour,236-37;other attractions,
sports and recreation,238-39;tourist
information office,236
Craft Market,Jamaica,206,211,213
Creek Dome,Jamaica,211
Cruise lines and ships:American Cana
dian Caribbean Cruise Line,14;Carni
val Cruise Line,10,21-28,64;
Celebrity Cruises,10,28-32;Clipper
Cruise Line,14;Costa Cruises,10-11,
32-34;Crystal Cruises,11,35-37;
Cunard,14-15;Disney Cruise Line,11,
37-38;First European,15;Fred.
Olsen,15;Holland America Line,
11-12,38-43,64;luxury yacht lines,
13;mass-market lines,10-13;MSC
Italian Cruises (MSC),15;Norwegian
Cruise Line,12,44-51;Oceania
Cruises,63;other cruise line options,
14-16;Princess Cruises,12,51-54,64;
Radisson Seven Seas,13;Regal Cruise
Line,15;Royal Caribbean Interna
tional,12-13,54-61,64;Royal Olym
pia Cruise Line,13,61-62;sailing
ships,13-14;Seabourne Cruise Line,
13;ship description information,
18-21;Silversea,13;small ships,14;
Star Clippers,14;Sun Cruises,15;
Cruise Lines International Association
Cruising information:accommodations
on land,73-74;activities,66-68;
mate and when to go,74-76;com
plete cruise tours,71;costs,76-78;
cruise documents,99,109;currency,
90-91;dining,78-81;disabled travel
and car rentals,86-89;electrical
appliances,89;flight arrangements,
91-92;gaming,92;getting to your
identification cards,110;itineraries,
64-66;passports andcustoms,97-98;
safety on board ship,110-11;safety
on shore,99-102;seasickness,
109-10;selecting your cruise,16-18;
ship security,102;shopping,103;
sports and recreation while in port,
103-6;telephone service,106-7;time
schedules,110;time zones,108;trav
eling with children,108;types of
Curaçao Ostrich & Game Farm,Curaçao,
Devon House,Jamaica,207-8
Discovery Tour,Bahamas,138-39
185-86;Dominican Republic,190,
view,105;Puerto Rico,266;St.
Dolphin Discovery,Mexico,229
Dolphin Experience,Bahamas,134
Dome House,Jamaica,212
Dominican Republic:La Romana,
Puerto Plata,194;Santo Domingo,
Drake’s Seat,St.Thomas,279
Dry Tortugas,Florida,200
Dunn’s River Falls,Jamaica,217
El Morro Castle,Puerto Rico,261
El Valle del Espíritu Santo,Venezuela,
Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum,
Estate St.Peter Greathouse and Gar
Fairy Hill,Jamaica,223
Fern Gully,Jamaica,217
200;Grand Cayman,163;Jamaica,
104;Puerto Rico,266;St.Thomas,
Floating Market,Curaçao,180-81
Florida:Key West,195-201;overview,
Curaçao,180;Dominican Republic,
Freeport (Port Lucaya),Bahamas:arrival,
130;getting around,130;one-day
sightseeing tour,132-33;other attrac
133-34;sports andrecreation,134-35;
tourist information office,130
Frenchman’s Cove,Jamaica,223
Curaçao,183;Dominican Republic,
Gatún Locks and Dam,Panama,254
Glass factories,Venezuela,289
142;Dominican Republic,188;Grand
231;overview,104;Puerto Rico,266
GoTo Meer Lake,Bonaire,155
Government House,St.Thomas,282
Grand Cayman (George Town):arrival,
157;getting around,159;map,158;
one-day sightseeing tour,159-61;
other attractions,161-62;overview,
157;shopping,162-63;sports andrec
reation,163-64;tourist information
Great Mayan Reef,Mexico,234
Greenwood Great House,Jamaica,212
Hell,Grand Cayman,159-60
Hiking:Aruba,128;Grand Cayman,164;
Honduras:Isla de Roatán,290;Puerto
Horseback riding:Aruba,129;Bahamas,
Hotel Zone,Mexico,228
International Bazaar,Bahamas,132
Isla de Margarita,Venezuela:arrival,
286;getting around,286;one-day
sightseeing tour,286-88;other attrac
288-89;sports and recreation,289;
tourist information office,286
Isla Mujeres,Mexico,228-29
Island Village,Jamaica,219
Montego Bay,209-14;Ocho Rios,
214-20;overview,202;Port Antonio,
Jamaica Conference Center,Jamaica,
Jamaica Farewell,Jamaica,218-19
Jamaica Palace,Jamaica,223
Jeep safari,Mexico,234
Key West,Florida:arrival,197;getting
sightseeing tour,198-200;other
shopping,201;sports and recreation,
201;tourist information office,197
around,203;map,206;one-day sight
seeing tour,205-6;other attractions,
205;shopping,208-9;sports and rec
reation,209;tourist information
Klein Bonaire,154,156
around,154;one-day sightseeing
tour,154-55;other attractions,156;
and recreation,156;tourist informa
tion center,154
Labadee Island,Haiti,201-202
La Fortaleza,Puerto Rico,262-63
Laguna de Nichupté,Mexico,228
Laguna Makax,Mexico,229
LaHermitade SantaIsabel,Mexico,251
La Mina Falls,Puerto Rico,265-66
La Puerta de San Juan,Puerto Rico,263
La Romana,Dominican Republic:arrival,
187;getting around,187;one-day
sightseeing tour,187-88;other attrac
188;sports and recreation,188-90;
tourist information office,187
Little Cayman,Cayman Islands,162
Mallory Square,Florida,198
Marine parks:Bahamas,141;Belize,
Maya ruins:Altun Ha,Belize,148;
Castillo Real,Mexico,238;
ico,232,251-52;El Cedral,Mexico,
Oxtankah,Mexico,233;Ruinas El Rey,
Mexico,228;San Gervasio,Mexico,
Mérida,Mexico.See Progreso/Mérida,
Mexico:Cancún,225-30;Costa Maya,
overview,225;Playa del Carmen,
Montego Bay,Jamaica:arrival,209;get
ting around,211;map,210;one-day
sightseeing tour,211-12;other attrac
101;shopping,213;sports and recre
ation,214;tourist information center,
Moravia,Costa Rica,173
Mountain Top,St.Thomas,279
Mount Isabel de Torres,Dominican
Mt.St.Benedict Monastery,Trinidad,
Colombia,166;Costa Rica,172-73;
199;Grand Cayman,161;Jamaica,
Musgrave Market,Jamaica,222,224
one-day sightseeing tour,136-40;
other attractions,140-41;overview,
135;Paradise Island,138-40;shop
ping,141-42;sports and recreation,
142;tourist information,135
National Archives,Costa Rica,173
National Library,Costa Rica,173
National Theater,Costa Rica,173
National Underwater Park,Curaçao,185
Natural Bridge,Aruba,123
Navy Island,Jamaica,222
Negro Aroused Statue,Jamaica,206
99 Steps,St.Thomas,282
Northern Cayes,Belize,151
Ocho Rios,Jamaica:arrival,214;getting
one-day sightseeing tour,217-19;
other attractions,219;overview,214;
and recreation,220;tourist informa
tion office,214
Old San Juan,Puerto Rico,261
Opera House,Costa Rica,173
Oranjestad:arrival,120;getting around,
120-22;map,121;one-day sightsee
ing tour,122-25;other attractions,
sports and recreation,127-29;tourist
information office,120
Palacio de Gobierno,Mexico,246
Palacio de la Inquisición,Colombia,
Palacio Municipal,Mexico,246
Panama:Colón,253-55;San Blas,256
Panteón Nacional,Dominican Republic,
Paradise Point Tramway,St.Thomas,
Grand Cayman,163;Mexico,230
167;Costa Rica,173,175;Curaçao,
Parliament Square,Bahamas,136
Pedro St.James Historic Site,Grand
Playa del Carmen,Mexico:arrival,240;
getting around,240;one-day sight-
seeing tour,240-42;other attractions,
sports and recreation,243;tourist
information office,240
Plaza Bolivar,Venezuela,286
Plaza de Independencia,Mexico,246
Plaza de la Aduana,Colombia,165
Plaza de la Cultura,Dominican Republic,
Plaza de los Coches,Colombia,165
Plaza del Quinto,Puerto Rico,262
Plaza del Sol,Mexico,237
Plaza de San José,Puerto Rico,263
Polo,Dominican Republic,188
Port Antonio,Jamaica:arrival,220;get
ting around,222;map,221;one-day
sightseeing tour,222-23;other attrac
224;sports and recreation,224;tour
ist information office,222
Port of Spain,Trinidad:arrival,268;get
ting around,268;one-day sightseeing
tour,270-72;other attractions,273;
and recreation,273;tourist informa
tion office,268
Ports of Call:Aruba,118-29;Bahamas,
151-56;Cayman Islands,156-64;
Colombia,164-68;Costa Rica,168-75;
Curaçao,176-86;Dominican Republic,
sightseeing,115;options in port,69;
Panama,253-56;port briefings,
67-68;Puerto Rico,256-66;seeing the
ports,116-17;tourism information,
zuela,285-90;Virgin Islands,274-85
Ports of Call Market Place,Aruba,124
243-45;getting around,245;map,
245;one-day sightseeing tour,
244-51;other attractions,251-52;
and recreation,252;tourist informa
tion office,244
Prospect Plantation,Jamaica,218
Puerto Limón,Costa Rica:arrival,170;
getting around,172;map,170;
one-day sightseeing tour,172-75;
other attractions,175;overview,168;
shopping,175;sports and recreation,
175;tourist information office,170
Puerto Rico:map,257;overview,
256-58;San Juan,258-64
Queen Emma Pontoon Bridge,Curaçao,
Queen’s Staircase,Bahamas,138
Raices Fountain,Puerto Rico,263
Rain Forest Aerial Tramway,Costa Rica,
Rand Nature Center,Bahamas,132
Red House,Trinidad,271
Ripley’s Believe It or Not Odditorium,
River trips,Panama,255
Rockland’s Feeding Station,Jamaica,
Rooi Catochi,Curaçao,182
Rose Hall Great House,Jamaica,212
Dominican Republic,193;overview,
SamSharpe Square,Jamaica,211
San José,Costa Rica,172-73;maps,171,
SanJuan,PuertoRico:aroundthe island,
264-65;arrival,258;getting around,
260;map,259;one-day sightseeing,
260-63;other attractions,263-64;
sports and recreation,266;tourist
information office,260
San Miguel,Mexico,237
Santo Domingo,Dominican Republic:
arrival,190;getting around,190-91;
one-day sightseeing tour,191-92;
other attractions,192;overview,190;
shopping,193;sports and recreation,
193;tourist information office,190
SantoTomás de Castilla,Guatemala,290
Sea Gardens,Bahamas,141
Sea Trekkin’,St.Thomas,279
Senior & Company Distillery,Curaçao,
Curaçao,185,186;Dominican Repub
256;Puerto Rico,266;St.John,283;
Somerset Falls,Jamaica,223
SorghumStalk House,Curaçao,184
Southernmost Point,Florida,199
Spanish Town,Jamaica,208
St.John,US Virgin Islands,283
St.Thomas,US Virgin Islands:arrival,
275;Charlotte Amalie,281-82;getting
other attractions,283;overview,274;
shopping,283-84;sports and recre
ation,284-85;touring the island,
277-81;tourist informationoffice,275
Straw Market:Bahamas,132,133,136;
Swimming,105-6.See also Beaches
Synagogues and temples:Curaçao,183;
188;overview,106;Puerto Rico,266
Titchfield Peninsula,Jamaica,221
Tortuguero Canals,Costa Rica,173
Train rides,Panama,255
Trident Castle,Jamaica,223
Port of Spain,268-72
Tropical Education Center,Belize,149
Truman Annex,Florida,199
Turneffe Atoll,Belize,151
Turtle Crawle Bay,Jamaica,223
US Virgin Islands:overview,274-75;St.
Uvita Island,Costa Rica,173
Venezuela:Isla de Margarita,285-89;La
Virgin Islands Legislative Building,St.
Volcán del Totumo,Colombia,167
Water Tower,Bahamas,138
Wildlife sanctuaries:Belize,148-49;Trin
ting around,179;map,178;one-day
sightseeing tour,180-82;other attrac
ping,185;sports and recreation,
185-86;tourist informationoffice,179
Willemstad Trolley Train Tour,Curaçao,
Grand Cayman,163;Mexico,230;
Curaçao,183;Dominican Republic,
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1588435113, cruising, western, southern, 2003, ludmer, caribbean
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