Grand Cayman

Seven Mile Beach

If you’re cruising, you’ll find Grand Cayman is a popular stop on many Caribbean itineraries. It is a tender port which means small boats serve as ferries between the ship and the island. The tenders drop you off right in the center of George Town, the primary city on the island, where you can find many duty-free stores. Grand Cayman is dotted with great beaches (one called Seven Mile Beach), terrific snorkeling and diving and a multitude of American chain restaurants.

As a word of caution, the Cayman dollar is permanently fixed to the US dollar with the exchange rate being one Cayman dollar equals US$1.25. This makes everything 20% more expense than it first appears as prices are normally quoted or shown in Cayman dollars. Be sure you know exactly what something costs before you pay.

Sting Ray City

If you are on a cruise ship, our recommendation for a great day is a tour to “stingray city”. It is advisable to book through your ship as it is a long day and sometimes can get dangerously close to missing the ship’s departure. We suggest picking a tour that visits the stingrays and also a coral reef for snorkeling.

If you have decided to fly in for a holiday, finding accommodations will not be difficult. Cayman has more hotel rooms per square foot than almost anywhere else in the Caribbean and thousands of condos (many owned by Americans) available for weekly or monthly rental. If your plans include staying in the Seven Mile Beach area, you can probably get by comfortably without renting a car. A limited number of taxis are available and there is a local bus service, but a rental car may be a better choice if your hotel is not centrally located.

If beaching and shopping start to wear thin, there are a few diversions on the island. The biggest attraction is the Cayman Turtle Center (https://www.turtle.ky/) , located in West Bay. It was the first commercial venture to domesticate Green Sea Turtles and is now home to around 11,000 of them. Also in the neighborhood are the Dolphin Cove (http://www.dolphincove.ky/) where you can encounter dolphins and the Hell post office and gift shop where you can send post cards to your friends at home postmarked from “Hell”.

Most of the better beaches are found along the coast between George Town and West Bay, including Seven Mile Beach, which lives up to its name. If you are looking to get away from the crowds, we would recommend driving out toward Bodden Town and beyond where there are still some smaller pocket beaches and coral formations near the shore. Back in the day, Grand Cayman was dotted with hundreds of isolated small beaches. You could find them in the direction of West Bay along with dozens of rustic dive hotels. A look at Google Earth today, however, quickly shows that the shoreline is now dominated by resorts, mansions and condos.

Whether you are arriving by airplane or cruise ship, Grand Cayman is still a great tropical destination if you are looking for incredible beaches, clear turquoise water and all the comforts of home.

Antigua – Something for Everyone

Technically, the country is Antigua and Barbuda but Barbuda is lightly populated and rural. Antigua and Barbuda became an independent state on November 1st, 1981 and is a member of Caricom, the Caribbean Common Market . The currency is the East Caribbean dollar (EC$) but US dollars are gladly accepted.

History buffs will love exploring English Harbour and Shirley Heights. In the eighteenth century English Harbour was a base for the British Navy and headquarters for the fleet of the Leeward Islands. The Heights had a garrison and fort commanding the high ground above the harbor. English Harbour was developed by Horatio Nelson in the eighteenth century and included Nelson’s Dockyard to service the fleet.

After closing in 1889, the dockyard has now been completely restored and it is the only Georgian dockyard in the world. Shirley Heights can be reached via a lookout trail and, from its’ height of 492 feet, provides views of Guadeloupe and Montserrat. Dow’s Hill Interpretive Center is located along the trail and offers a presentation of Antigua’s history. Observation decks at Dow’s Hill provide sweeping vistas of the harbour and surrounding islands and the ruined fortifications of Fort Berkeley are nearby.

Sailboat people know English Harbour as the site of Sailing Week, one of the Caribbean’s premiere sailing events each year. The event is so popular that accommodations are hard to come by and some people plan years in advance to attend. Even if you aren’t a sailboat person, the weeklong party is an overall great time. Accommodations in the English Harbour area include The Copper and Lumber Store Historic Inn, Admiral’s Inn & Gunpowder Suites and the Antigua Yacht Club Marina Resort nearby in the Falmouth area.

If you are looking for tropical beaches it is said that you can visit a different beach every day and not start over again for a whole year. There are a number of resorts to pick from including the longtime favorite Halcyon Cove just north of the capital of St. Johns. South along the coast are Keyonna Beach Resort and Jolly Beach Resort. At the other end of the island is The St. James Club, an exclusive all-inclusive property that has been a popular resort for well-to-do English tourists.

If you are looking for insight into life in Antigua and aren’t looking for a beach location, try staying in the middle of St. Johns. The Heritage Quay Hotel is frequented by business travelers and is located near the waterfront. It is on Heritage Quay a popular shopping and duty free district, near King’s Casino and not far from Redcliffe Quay, a tourist shopping, craft and restaurant area. Nearby is the cruise ship pier which can be very congested on days that ships are in. St. Johns also offers the Antigua Museum and the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. A short trip from the city is Betty’s Hope, a former sugar cane plantation.

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Our Caribbean

Discover the Caribbean

For over twenty-five years the heart of our business was servicing customers in the Caribbean. It would be easier to list the places we haven’t been than were we have. As a result we like to think we know the neighborhood pretty well.

Back in the beginning, Eastern Airlines was the primary carrier from the U.S. to most islands and they sold an island hopper ticket that allowed us to travel around the islands for a discount price. We would usually go out for a couple of weeks at a time spending a day at each island and staying at local or discount accommodations. Fast forward a decade or more and Eastern is gone (mostly replaced by American) and, because we now have to book each flight in and out with between islands mostly being LIAT and seaplanes, the trips take in fewer stops at much higher prices. Fortunately our business is more successful but travel has gotten more complicated because we are hauling children with us.

The restaurants, hotels and resorts are more upscale and we tended to spend more time in each location, partly because of the airfare, but also because we are spending time with more customers. We also took a number of busman’s holidays because we liked skin diving and beach combing but also because we could include business and offset some of the costs.

There are some places that we haven’t been back to in a while but we can still talk about the character of the islands. There is one place we can’t go back to because a volcano buried it (Montserrat). There are a number of places we return to often and can offer current tips and suggestions. Keep an eye out as we add articles about our little corner of the world including:

Barbados      St. Croix      Antigua      Curacao      Sint Maarten

St. Kitts       St. Lucia       Caymans      Jamaica       St. Thomas

Dominica      Grenada      St. Barts     Bahamas      and more

We have also taken more than a dozen Caribbean cruises and we will offer some comments on these as well. Cruising the Caribbean I offers an overview of cruising the Caribbean. Cruising the Caribbean II talks about the short 3 and 4 day cruises out of South Florida and their destinations. Cruising the Caribbean III looks at the seven day and longer cruises.

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St. Croix U.S.V.I.

St Croix: A Different Caribbean

At 84 square miles, St. Croix is the largest island in the Virgin Island group and significantly more rural than the others. The island features a rain forest in its western interior, an arid climate in the east and two historic towns.

The island was a possession of Denmark until the early nineteenth century and boasts a deepwater port at the west-end town of Fredireksted. The port was defended by Fort Fredirek as far back as the mid eighteenth century. A second deepwater industrial port was developed on the south coast in the nineteenth century. The island, along with St. Thomas and St. John was bought by the United States in the early nineteenth century. That means you don’t need a passport to visit and you can bring back five liters of liquor duty free.

Christiansted is the other town on the island and, to us, represents the quintessential tropical waterfront. Christiansted is located on the north central coast. The waterfront is fringed with a boardwalk and small boat docks, protected by a natural reef and a close-in small island. The harbor features sailboats at anchor, crystal clear water and a number of small hotels and restaurants along the boardwalk. Running up from the waterfront is a colonial era town where the stone and brick buildings include colonnades protecting the sidewalks. Most of these buildings feature galleries, shops and restaurants along with a couple of small hotels. Just to the east on the waterfront is the old Fort Christiansvaern operated by the U.S. Park Service. The small island in the harbor is Protestant Cay and features the Hotel on the Cay which is serviced by hotel launches.

For almost thirty years, Christiansted was often our base of operations and we have stayed at King’s Alley, Holger Danske, Caravelle, The Hotel on the Cay, The Danish Manor (now the Company House Hotel) and a number of places which are no longer open, like the Anchor Inn. On a number of trips we didn’t rent a car and spent almost all our time around town or at the beach at The Hotel on the Cay. (You can take the hotel launch over for a fee if you aren’t a guest).

Most of the beachfront resorts are clustered in three or four locations on the island and you really need a rental car to get around. Driving is on the left side of the road which can be awkward because most of the vehicles also have the steering column on the left. Taxis are available but they are expensive. There is also limited bus service and “taxi buses” which have dedicated routes and a flat fare.

The most popular area on the island is the eastern north shore with the centerpiece being the Buccaneer Resort and Golf Course. The Buccaneer has been an institution on the island forever and deserves its’ high marks. A little further along the coast are the Tamarind Beach and Chenay Bay resorts. We stayed at Chenay Bay a couple of times long ago when the cabins were pretty primitive but still everyone enjoyed the stay and the beach is great. Based on current photos and reviews a lot has changed at Chenay Bay.

Crossing the island to the east end of the south shore there are a couple of resorts centered on Divi Carina Bay Resort. We haven’t visited since Hurricane Hugo destroyed the Divi hotels in 1989 but, before that, we did a fair amount of snorkeling along that shore. The reef is close along that area and the coral is impressive.

Another area, which we used to love for its beaches and good snorkeling, is Davis Bay. Located along the western north coast it has always been pretty isolated and primitive but the beaches are some of the best on the island. Some thirty years ago the Rock Resort people built an exclusive resort above Davis Bay called the Carambola Resort but a combination of things, including Hugo, caused the venture to fail. Today it is alive as the Renaissance St. Croix Carambola Resort and, based on location alone, it is worth considering.

On our first visit to St. Croix we rented an apartment at Mill Harbor and it is still there and renting units along with its neighbors Colony Cove and Sugar Beach. While a little out of the way, the beach is nice and the amenities are good.

Back in the day when an associate and I had some time to kill we would drive into the rain forest for a beer and stop at a thatch-roofed shack of a bar with a pig pen attached. In those days you were expected to buy the pig a beer by simply tossing a can into the pen. The pig would pick up the can, raise its head, crush the can and drink. If you got there too late (or early depending on perspective), the pig was passed out drunk. I never knew the places name but apparently it is Montpellier Domino Club and I would bet that that pig is long gone. It has been replaced by a couple of pigs and now seems to be a “must do” tourist destination.

If you are a skin or scuba diver, or just a novice swimmer, one real “must do” on St. Croix is to visit the underwater National Park at Buck Island where the whole island, not just the reef, is the park. Located 1.5 miles off the northeast coast, there are a number of boat tours from Christiansted out to the area and the reef is spectacular. There is also an underwater trail on the eastern tip. If you can convince yourself to take this trip and put on a face mask you will never forget it.

At this juncture we don’t think we can offer much in the way of restaurant recommendations because that scene is likely to change a lot over even short periods of time. Back in the day Friday night was a locals event at Cheeseburgers in Paradise and, that may still be the case, but late night mud pie and Jamaican coffee at the Chart House are long gone. Anyone with recent experiences, we would love to hear from you. We are planning a short visit for this coming January.

While there aren’t a lot of cruise ships visiting some do spend a day tied up to the Fredireksted pier and, if this is how you come to St. Croix, we would recommend that you rent a car and spend your day driving around the island. The scenery is breathtaking with the rugged coast along North Shore Road and Cane Bay Road worth the trip. Along Centerline Road visit the Estate Whim Museum, the only surviving plantation great house in the Virgin Islands. Go into Christiansted for lunch and a walk around and return to Fredireksted via the rain forest on Mahogany Road.

 

Cruising The Caribbean (Part II)

One of the most popular destinations in the cruising world is the Caribbean, including the Bahamas. Taking a three, four or five day cruise out of Florida is a great way to sample cruising at a very inexpensive price (some 3 and 4 day cruises are as inexpensive as $200 to $300* per person). Royal Caribbean and Carnival have a number of these itineraries sailing out of Miami, Ft. Lauderdale and Port Canaveral year round. In addition to these two cruise lines there are a number of other lines in the market with many of them sailing only seasonally.

The Bahamas cruises are the most economical and usually include a stop in Nassau or Freeport and a day at one of the “private islands”. If you are booking one of these cruises and can swim, one of the best excursions you can take is a snorkeling trip. Everyone should experience this at least once in their life because there is nothing to compare to gliding over a coral reef watching marine life swimming all around you.

If your stop is Nassau we would recommend going over to Paradise Island and visiting the Atlantis resort. There is a daily admission fee but it includes sea life exhibits, beaches, a water park, casino, restaurants and bars. (Most cruise ships offer tours.)  In addition you can walk thru Nassau town and shop for souvenirs, duty free watches, jewelry, clothes and liquor (see customs rules below). The private islands offer a day of beaches, barbecue, water sports and more.

There are also west-bound short cruises which usually include Cozumel, Grand Cayman and often Key West. Our favorite stop is Key West with its’ shops and restaurants and our favorite attraction, a small aquarium, is only a short walk from the pier. Unfortunately, cruise ships must sail well before sunset so you will miss the sunset celebration at Mallory Square which is the best show in town. (The large ships would block the view of the setting sun.)

Stopping in Cozumel offers some duty free bargains including silver, onyx and tequila (see customs rules below) and good pricing on vanilla. The cruise ships will offer tours including beach trips and snorkeling but our recommendation is to take a taxi to Chankanaab Beach Park and pay the admission. You’ll save a lot of money and can go and return when you want. There is a bar, food, snorkeling rental and beach chairs and the water is great. Reefs are a bit of a swim out though.

There are two cruise ship areas in Cozumel. One is downtown and only a short walk to shops and Senior Frogs. The other is a bit north (actually two piers) with shopping areas dedicated to cruise passengers. There is also a smaller version of Senior Frogs which actually has a good snorkeling area right next to it. If your group includes teenagers beware. one of the local pastimes is pouring tequila into young Americans, so keep a watch on how much alcohol is consumed.

Grand Cayman is the other usual stop on these itineraries and offers probably the best duty free shopping on the cruise. You tender rather then dock but the tenders drop you off right in the center of Georgetown. Grand Cayman is dotted with great beaches (one seven miles long), terrific snorkeling and diving and many American chain restaurants. Our recommendation for a great day is a tour to “stingray city”.  Pick an excursion that visits the stingrays and also a coral reef for snorkeling.  It is advisable to book the tour through your ship as the day runs long  and you can get dangerously close to missing the ship’s departure time .

A cautionary note here regards the Cayman dollar. It is permanently fixed to the US dollar with the exchange rate being one Cayman dollar equaling US$1.25 so everything is 20% more expensive than it appears. Always be sure to ask if the quoted price is in Cayman or US dollars.


Duty Free Shopping

There is a lot of confusion about bringing back duty free liquor and how much and from where. The following is from the web site of U.S. Customs:

Please note, only one liter of alcohol purchased in a cruise ship’s duty-free shop is eligible for a duty-free exemption, although if at least one bottle purchased on board is the product of an eligible Caribbean Basin country**, then you will be allowed two liters duty free. If you buy five liters of alcohol in – say – the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI), and one of them is the product of the USVI, then you would have reached your duty-free limit. Any additional purchases made on board in a duty-free shop would be subject to CBP duty and IRS tax.

If you buy four bottles in the USVI, one of which is a product of the USVI, then you could purchase one additional bottle from the onboard duty-free, and it would be eligible for duty-free entry.

Additional bottles will be subject to a flat duty rate of 1.5% and subject to Internal Revenue Service taxes.

** Most Caribbean Basin countries are considered beneficiary countries for purposes of this exemption. (Anguilla, Caymen Islands, Guadeloupe, Martininque and Turks and Caicos are not eligible)

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Barbados

This island is probably our favorite Caribbean destination. It is one of the oldest English outposts and has been an independent nation since 1966. It has one of the Caribbean’s highest literacy rates and standards of living. Its’ location puts it deep into the southern Caribbean and east out into the Atlantic so that its western shores are washed by the Caribbean and the east coast is famous for good surf. Bathsheba on the Atlantic coast is the site of major surfing competitions.

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Beaches & Nitelife

Geography places a majority of the activity and hotels on the northwest coast of the island stretching to the western south shore. Starting out on the northwest coast at Speightstown, which is just south of one of our favorite restaurants, The Fish Pot and going south along the sea, you come to the high rent part of Barbados. This area is dotted with palatial estates and upscale beach properties. The center of this neighborhood is the Royal Westmoreland Golf Course and Sandy Lane Beach. The Sandy Lane Resort is a destination for celebrities and jet setters with upscale shopping at Limegrove Center. The area is also famous for pricey bars and restaurants.

Traveling farther south you pass a number of good beaches and the seaport as you approach Bridgetown. The capital is the island’s government center and features a number of restaurants and shopping with the major department store being Cave Sheppard. Leaving Bridgetown and again heading due south you find another beach with good resort hotels along with the Garrison and Drill Hall areas. In the center of this is Harbour Lights, one of the island’s destinations for night life for tourists and locals alike.

Heading further south you will find properties with names like Hilton, Marriott and Radisson dotted along more great beaches and also many smaller local hotels. There is also a nice boardwalk that starts near Bridgetown and winds its way south for a number of miles. Near the end of the boardwalk is Rockley Beach. This is one of our favorite areas to stay. There are a number of places to eat from fast food (Chefette is Barbados’ own fast food chain featuring chicken) to upscale eateries, gift and beach shops and grocery and wine stores. The center of this is the Accra Beach Hotel which, while old, is a nice beachfront property. We have also stayed at Coral Sands which is very nice, as well as several other smaller properties in Rockley. For dining check out Mojo’s and the Tiki Bar along with Champers which is a good upscale restaurant in this neighborhood.

A little way south down the coast again is the St. Lawrence Gap area usually referred to as just “the Gap”, another location for bars and nightlife on the island. There are a number of hotels in the area but be warned that the party scene can be pretty loud late into the night. Following the coast out of the Gap you will find another stretch of great beaches with good resort hotels. We have had good experiences staying at Bougainvillea Beach and Coral Sands in this area as well.

Friday Oistin’s Fish Fry

Next comes the town of Oistin where everyone regularly goes on a Friday night for a waterfront fish fry. Oistin is a traditional Bajan fishing village and the Friday Oistin’s Fish Fry is an event that has been going on forever: fresh fish cooked amidst a carnival atmosphere. It is something not to be missed.

Next comes the airport area and after that is the Crane Beach and Crane Beach Resort. The area features cliffs with pocket beaches below and gets its’ name from a crane that was used to lift cargo up the cliffs in early days. The hotel is an excellent resort but somewhat isolated. If your intention is to relax and spend quality time with the family, sand and surf it is a good choice.

Getting Around

Getting around Barbados can be a challenge. There is public bus service and a number of tour operators but to really see the island it is best to rent a car. You need to be warned though, because the traffic is English drive or driving on the left. The roads can be narrow and unmarked and the island makes use of lots of traffic circles (remember that the traffic in the circle always has the right-of-way). Also, the roads in some areas can be a maze where Bajan friends have admitted to getting lost.

Things To Do and Don’t Do

Do:

Eat flying fish with Bajan hot sauce

Visit Harrison’ Cave and Hunte’s Gardens

Take a ride out to Bathsheba and the northeast island

Take the tour at the Mount Gay Distillery

Don’t:

Cross a street without looking both ways (your instincts can kill you)

Wear clothes with camouflage (it’s against the law)

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Cruising the Caribbean III

St. Thomas looking toward Frenchmans Reef

If you are looking for a little bigger taste of the Caribbean than three or four nights, the next step up is the week-long cruise. The major cruise lines typically divide their itineraries between east and west. The east usually includes St. Thomas and the Dutch side of Sint Maarten and often Nassau or Freeport and sometimes Haiti (a private beach area). The west usually includes Grand Cayman and Cozumel with one or two additional ports. These can be Negril, Jamaica, Roatan Island Honduras, Costa Maya and sometimes Key West.

With a few exceptions, most of these ports have things in common: beaches, water sports, diving and snorkeling. If these are your interests, we suggest packing a couple of beach and swim outfits, and, to save money bring sunscreen and a mask and snorkel. Often buying an inexpensive mask & snorkel at home is cheaper than renting at a Caribbean beach.

Stopping in Cozumel offers some duty free bargains. Good buys include silver, onyx and tequila (see customs rules below). Be sure and pick up vanilla as well but avoid ones that include Coumarin and/or high fructose corn syrup. The cruise ships will offer tours including beach trips and snorkeling but if you are looking for a day at the beach our recommendation is to take a taxi to Chankanaab Beach Park and pay the park

admission. You’ll save a lot of money over the tour cost and can go and return when you want. It’s not far and there are usually taxis waiting at the entrance to take you back to the ship. There is a bar, food, snorkeling rental and beach chairs and the water is great. But to get to the reefs it’s a bit of a swim out.

There are two cruise ship areas in Cozumel. One is downtown and only a short walk to shopping and Senior Frogs. The other is a bit north (actually two piers) with shopping areas dedicated to cruise passengers at each. There is also a smaller water front version of Senior Frogs which has a good snorkeling area right next to it. Be forewarned if your group includes teenagers. One of the local pastimes is pouring tequila into young Americans, so keep a watch. Cruise ships used to stay until late at night but most now leave much earlier in the day. We believe it was the teen passengers and out-of-control alcohol that caused this change.

Grand Cayman is the other usual stop on these itineraries and offers probably the better duty free shopping. It is a tender port so you have to take boats in from the ship which drop you off right in the center of Georgetown where there is great shopping. Grand Cayman is dotted with beautiful beaches (one called Seven Mile Beach), terrific snorkeling and diving and many American chain restaurants.

A piece of advice here regarding money. The Cayman dollar is permanently fixed to the US dollar with the exchange rate being one Cayman dollar equaling US$1.25. This makes everything 20% more expensive than it first appears. Be sure to inquire if a price is in US or Cayman dollars to avoid overpaying.

Our recommendation for a great day is a tour to “stingray city”. Pick one that visits the stingrays and also a coral reef for snorkeling. It is advisable to book through your ship as it is a long day and getting back can get dangerously close to missing the departure time for the next port.

Costa Maya is a Mexican port and a new resort area that the government has developed out of the jungle. When we first visited fifteen years ago it was a pier, a half dozen tourist shops, a bar and an undeveloped beach area. It has now grown into a town, a number of new resorts and a nicely developed beach area.

Roatan is another stop that is often included on seven night cruises and is also very popular with ex-pat Americans and retirees. It has changed a lot over the last decade or so. When we first visited, the ship docked at the Port of Roatan and we walked into the typical Honduran town to shop. Today the ships dock at the Cruise Ship Terminal with its attached shopping village which offers the same selection of jewelry stores and souvenir shops as dozens of other cruise ports.

Key West is our favorite stop with its’ shops and restaurants and an interesting small aquarium only a short walk from the pier. There is also Mel Fisher’s Atocha gold museum and don’t miss the art galleries. Unfortunately cruise ships must sail well before sunset so you will miss the sunset celebration at Mallory Square. (The large cruise ships would block the view of the setting sun) which is a daily celebration in Key West.

Nassau is a port where we would recommend going over to Paradise Island and visiting the Atlantis resort. There is a daily admission fee to enjoy the facilities and most cruise ships offer tours there as well. In addition you can walk through town and shop for souvenirs, duty free watches, jewelry, clothes and liquor (see customs rules below).

Bahamas private island stop. Many cruise lines operate exclusive private islands where they anchor and offer a day of beaches, barbeque, water sports and more.

St. Thomas is the centerpiece of most Caribbean cruises. It is a U.S. possession with world-class beaches, historic sights and true duty free shopping. The cruise ships dock at either the Sub Base east of Charlotte Amalie or The West Indian Company Dock next to Havensight, just to the west of town. Getting into town from the Sub Base will require a taxi (or a tourist bus unique to St. Thomas) but there is a nice walking trail along the water from Havensight which goes thru the shops of Yacht Haven and into town.

There are plenty of things to do on this popular island and here are a few: (1) From Havensight take a cable car up to Blackbeard’s Castle Resort for a drink and the view. (2) Go into Charlotte Amalie and sit in the Greenhouse Bar on the waterfront where John Updike wrote a short story for The New Yorker (In a Bar In Charlotte Amalie). (3) Walk down Creque’s Alley where the Mamas and Papas essentially got their start as a musical band (immortalized in their song Creque Alley). (4) Stroll the ten blocks of Kronprindsens Gade and do some shopping or visit the shops and galleries in the alleys like Drakes Passage. (5) Take a trip to the far side of the island to Megan’s Bay, which is consistently named as one of the world’s ten best beaches. (6)  Visit Coral World, especially if you have younger children with you.

Because of treaties from the time the United States purchased the Virgin Islands, St. Thomas and St. Croix feature some of the best “duty free” shopping in the islands. The best duty free buys are European goods like Lladro, Rosenthal, Rolex, Dior, L’Occitane as well as duty free liquor where each person can bring back 5 liters duty free to the U.S. (see customs information below).

Cruise ships visit Sint Maarten which is the Dutch side of an island that includes two countries. The north end of the island is the French part or St. Martin. Most cruise ships dock on the Dutch side at a pier area that includes a large shopping village. The island has a number of great beaches along with good diving and

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snorkeling locations but they do require a tour or taxi to reach most of them.

To get into the main town of Philipsburg you will need to take a tour bus or taxi. You can also take a taxi over to the French side of the island, which features the smaller and more relaxed town of Marigot with a number of restaurants and cafes featuring an authentic French flavor. There are waterfront restaurants known locally as lolos. These small, vibrant eateries offer a full range of local specialties in an authentic setting that maintains an island market feel. Be careful to allow plenty of time to get back to the ship. With four or more cruise ships in port on some days, afternoon rush hour taking people back to the pier can turn into slow bumper to bumper traffic. Again, this is the major reason to take advantage of ship tours as you are guaranteed not to miss the ship.

Photos from top to bottom: Ship docked in Key west,  beach at Costa Maya,  Stingray City Grand Cayman, Cruise Port Roatan, Nassua street and Atlantis resort, pier Sint Maarten.


DUTY FREE SPIRITS


There is a lot of confusion about bringing back duty free liquor and how much and from where. The following is from the web site of U.S. Customs (we would also suggest to print this and take it with you, especially if you plan on maxing out the allowance as we have had encounters with Custom Agents that aren’t sure of the rules):

How much alcohol can I bring back from a U.S. insular possession (U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, or Guam) duty-free?

The state you arrive in determines the amount of alcohol you can bring back for personal use.

As long as the amount does not exceed what that state considers a personal quantity*, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will allow you to enter the U.S. with up to five liters of alcohol duty-free as part of your $1,600 exemption – as long as at least four liters were purchased in the insular possession, and at least one of them is a product of that insular possession. Additional bottles will be subject to a flat duty rate of 1.5% and subject to Internal Revenue Service taxes.

Please note, only one liter of alcohol purchased in a cruise ship’s duty-free shop is eligible for a duty-free exemption, although if at least one bottle purchased on board is the product of an eligible Caribbean Basin country**, then you will be allowed two liters duty free. If you buy five liters of alcohol in – say – the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI), and one of them is the product of the USVI, then you would have reached your duty-free limit. Any additional purchases made on board in a duty-free shop would be subject to CBP duty and IRS tax.

If you buy four bottles in the USVI, one of which is a product of the USVI, then you could purchase one additional bottle from the onboard duty-free, and it would be eligible for duty-free entry.

* Most States restrictions on the amount of alcohol that can be brought into that State apply only to residents of that State. Usually people transiting a state are not subject to those restrictions, but sometimes regulations change, and if this is a matter of utmost importance to you, you can check with the state Alcohol Beverage Control Board where you will be arriving to find out what their policies are.

** Most Caribbean Basin countries are considered beneficiary countries for purposes of this exemption. (Anguilla, Cayman Islands, Guadeloupe, Martininque and Turks and Caicos are not eligible)


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