When Mark and I booked our week-long cruise of the eastern Caribbean, one of the main draws for us was that it had five ports of call – St. Thomas (USVI), Barbados, St. Lucia, St. Kitts, and St. Maarten – plus our departure port of San Juan, Puerto Rico. I’ve always been a proponent of fast travel – maximizing what I experience in a destination in a short period of time – but even one day in each port of call was a challenge for me. Nevertheless, we tried our best in each location to see it as fully as possible – with varying degrees of success – and I’ve outlined what we did each port of call below.
San Juan, Puerto Rico
Of all the places we visited, our departure port of San Juan was where we had the most time – two half days and one night. Because we covered a bit more there than some of our other destinations, I’ve broken San Juan out into its own post: How to Spend One Day in San Juan, Puerto Rico. All I can say is Puerto Rico’s colorful architecture and piña coladas did not disappoint.
St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands
In St. Thomas, we did a four hour tour with Brenda and Franko’s tours. Brenda and Franko run the tour, and as they drive you to various viewpoints around the island they tell you a bit about St. Thomas’ history. While we enjoyed their narration, a lot of the viewpoints we stopped at felt too touristy to me (most were accessed through a gift shop!). That being said, I think that the majority of sightseeing tours on the island will show you roughly those same viewpoints, so this is a decent way to see quite a bit of the island in the allotted port time.
Cost: We did the Sightseeing and Swimming Excursion which was $35 per person (including children). This included pick up and drop off at the cruise port.
Our day in Bridgetown, Barbados started with a morning visit to Mount Gay Rum’s Visitor Center. At the visitor center we took a tour where we learned about the island’s history in rum distilling, enjoyed a tasting session of a few of the rums, and saw the production line where the rum is bottled. We also enjoyed our tour guide and how much “research” he had done on what’s best to mix each variety of rum with!
Cost: The tour is $15 per adult, $7.50 for children age 6-17, and free for children below 6. If you visit the Tourist Information Center outside the cruise port terminal (you’ll walk by it to get out), they have coupons for two for one – so we saved $15 on an adult tour.
We then spent our afternoon in Barbados at the Boatyard, which is a beach club just outside Bridgetown (it’s a short taxi ride there). The Boatyard has two bars – entry includes a free cocktail, music, a rope swing, basketball, a beach with lounge chairs, and offers boat rides to go view sea turtles. There’s also a free frequent shuttle service back to the cruise port. We liked the general vibe of the beach club and although we didn’t have enough time to take the boat ride out to the sea turtles (there’s was about a one hour wait the day we went), I think it would be a fun experience.
Cost: $20 per person, which includes the use of a beach chair, a welcome cocktail, boat ride to the see the sea turtles, and the shuttle back to the cruise port. Taxi to the Boatyard from the cruise port was $5 per person.
In St. Lucia – the port of call I was most anticipating – we splurged a bit and went on a full day tour. It was worth every penny, and we saw so much in one day that I wrote about it in Under the St. Lucian Sky. If you are ever in St. Lucia, be sure to do a tour with COSOL tours, as I highly recommend them.
Cost: $75 per adult, $65 per child. This includes breakfast, an afternoon snack, beverages, a water taxi ride, entry to all attractions on the tour, and pick up and drop off at the cruise port.
At each cruise port we visited, you can hire a taxi driver to do tours for a few hours for fairly reasonable rates. In St. Kitts we did just that, and we were really impressed with our tour and tour guide. We spent two hours driving around the island, learning about St. Kitts’ history and start as a English colony, as well as stopping at a few of the sites on the island. With the tour being given by a local, it’s a great way to gain an understanding from them about the island they call home.
Cost: We paid $60 for three people for a two hour private tour.
After our morning tour, we made our way over to Dolphin Discovery where Mark and Markie had booked a session to swim with dolphins. They both absolutely loved the experience and had about 45 minutes of time to swim with the dolphins in a small group setting.
The only part of the Dolphin Discovery that I would give warning to is that the cost is fairly steep. In addition to that, the prices to buy the photographs after – you are not allowed to take your own photos – was ridiculous in my opinion, and we got annoyed with the salespeople repeatedly pressuring us to buy the photos.
Cost: Mark and Markie did the Dolphin Swim Adventure which was $100 per adult and $80 for children (we got a discount for booking online a week ahead). It was $35 per photo; photo packages are available.
St. Maarten was a bit of an off day, because after experiencing a full week of constant sunshine, it poured nonstop the day we were there (poor us!). Nonetheless, we still tried to enjoy and make the most of our time there. St. Maarten is actually split into two sides: a Dutch side and a French side. Our cruise docked on the Dutch side, and at the port we found a taxi to do a tour for us.
Our tour was two hours and brought us around the French and Dutch sides of the island. We had heard that St. Maarten was the “New York City of the Caribbean”, and it proved true – while St. Lucia and St. Kitts are laid back and not overly built up, St. Maarten was considerably busier and was more developed.
The most popular place for tourists to go in St. Maarten is Maho Beach, which is one of the top plane spotting locations in the world. Maho Beach is a narrow beach that is right next to the airport on the island, so while you swim and relax in the sand, planes fly practically over your head. Planes fly in frequently – we saw about 5 in the span of 30 minutes.
Cost: We paid $25 per person for a two hour group tour in a large taxi van.
Have you been on a cruise? Which of these ports of call would you most like to visit?