Guest post by Christopher Reeve
There’s nothing wrong with a day of sun, sand, and sea at the beach. Actually, beach days are awesome. But when you’re on a Caribbean cruise, spending only a few hours at various ports of call at places you might not see again, you have to think beyond the beach to make the most of the trip.
While on Holland America’s Eurodam recently, besides time at sea, Monnira Amri, True Nomads’ public relations officer, and I had roughly six hours in Grand Turk, seven in Puerto Rico, six in St. Maarten/St. Martin, and six in Half Moon Cay, the crescent-shaped island Holland America purchased from the Bahamian government.
Here is how we spent that time.
Grand Turk is part of Turks and Caicos, of the Lucayan Archipelago. It is small at less than seven square miles and has a flat landscape. Although Cockburn Town, the capital of Turks and Caicos, is on Grand Turk, the island’s population is less than 4,000. Initially, Monnira and I expected to dive (of course), but shortly after docking we learned that our trip under the sea had been cancelled due to low visibility. Holland America’s excursions team helped us rebook, this time to take a helicopter ride over the island. The ride was short (about 12 minutes), but enjoyable. The chopper’s pilot gave a history of the island and pointed out landmarks of interest, like a wrecked ship. I sat in the middle seat of the rear part of the vessel and felt that I was at an advantage, able to look through the front and two side windows effortlessly. The views were beautiful, and for someone who loves flying, just being up in the air was a treat.
The next port of call was San Juan, the capital of Puerto Rico, a U.S. commonwealth. Like at Grand Turk, Monnira and I wanted to do something unique, so opted for zip-lining at the El Yunque rainforest, the only tropical rainforest in the U.S. forest system. This would be my second time in El Yunque, but my first time ziplining anywhere. After taking a cable car above the canopy to the starting point, our descent was broken up into eight zipline segments, the last being the longest—great for reaching exhilirating speeds. The zipline staff was friendly and helpful; they made sure we all knew how to brake
After our time in El Yunque, a van took us to San Juan’s picturesque Old City for shopping and strolling. Puerto Rico is experiencing an economic crisis at the moment, so tourist dollars are particularly well received. Salesmen are even open to haggling. It was in San Juan where I bought all of my souvenirs, and at very fair prices. Before heading back to the ship, we had lunch at Café Berlin with a group of cruising friends. The guava-sesame chicken dish was decent (I actually wanted something more typical of Puerto Rican fare), the manjito (mango-flavored mojito) tasty, and the staff smiling. Puerto Rico, a highly developed island of 3.5 million, is worth more than a few hours. If a few hours on the island as part of a cruise itinerary is the extent to which you see Puerto Rico, it is worth returning.
Our next stop was Philipsburg, St. Maarten, on the Dutch side of an island whose northern portion is French and spelled “St. Martin.” Here, Monnira and I joined a Scoot Coupe convoy across the island. I piloted our yellow three-wheeled miniature car for two. The line of Scoot Coupes—with escorts who dealt with traffic—went from the Dutch part of the hilly island to the French side for a swim at Orient Bay, and back again. Monnira and I lucked out by being first in the vehicle line for most of the round-trip voyage, so got to hit high speeds, which increased the fun.
Once back at Philipsburg, we took a cab with friends to Mr. Busby’s Restaurant at Oyster Bay, still on the Dutch side. I opted for the shrimp and crab salad with homemade dressing. The dish was light and tasty—perfect for a meal after driving and swimming under the Caribbean sun. Seated at a table overlooking the bay, I washed the salad down with tangy passionfruit daiquris. The Eurodam’s final port of call was Half Moon Cay, where the white sand beaches make it tempting to forego the excursions. Don’t fall to temptation! It was at Half Moon Cay that Holland America’s excursions team demonstrated flexibility. Up until that point, all of our excursions had begun with on-land briefings. So Monnira and I didn’t check the fine print with meeting place on our tickets.
For our first excursion that day, a snorkeling adventure at sea, we were supposed to have met on board the ship. We didn’t, so missed our group. We ended up doing our second excursion, a bike and kayak outing, first, and then, after lunch, went out on the boat for snorkeling. The bike ride was fun, as was piloting our clear-bottom kayak across a lagoon. We welcomed the physical activity after nearly a week of indulging in food and drinks. For lunch, Holland America treated passengers to a barbecue with various grilled meats. (Yes, there were vegetarian options, too.) The snorkeling venture, which followed, had some room for improvement. After we arrived by boat to our spot, the guides scattered chow to attract fish and at least one of the men repeatedly touched the coral with his fins. (You are there to observe, so don’t want to do anything to alter the ecosystem.)
As was the case with all previous stops at ports of call, our day at Half Moon Cay quickly came to an end. The morning after swimming in the deep blue waters of the Bahamas, reality struck as the Eurodam docked at Fort Lauderdale. Our week at sea had come to an end. While taking advantage of cruise excursions might seem a bit stressful (definitely more stressful than sipping a piña colada and lying on soft sand), take advantage of the opportunity to do things you’ve never done and may never have a chance to do again.