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.

Cruise Line Loyalty Programs

Five cruise ships docked in Nassau

If your future plans include more then an occasional cruise, you might want to consider focusing your bookings on a particular cruise line because of the loyalty programs they offer. Benefits can include discounts on or even free internet, laundry, photos, cocktail parties and fancy coffees. Some lines also offer cabin upgrades and priority treatment with boarding and tender usage.

Picking Your Cruise Line – There are a lot of similarities between the major cruise lines but there are also differences that make some more suitable to your particular needs. They all feature good dining options from main dining room dinners to buffets to specialty restaurants and good entertainment and shows, but the things that set them apart is often related to the passengers they try and attract.

Most lines cater to families but a few are stand outs because of their children’s programs. Two of the best are Disney and Royal Caribbean. There is also the price range that varies from one cruise company to another. At the economy end of the price range are Carnival and Norwegian. Stepping up a bit in price are Royal Caribbean, MSC, and Princess followed by Holland America and Celebrity, which are a bit higher still. At the other end of pricing you will find Cunard, Disney and Oceania with Silver Seas and Seabourn being the ultra exclusive lines.

Besides simply price, there are a number of other things to consider when picking a line. Following are some observations we have made regarding a couple of cruise lines:

Carnival – Besides being the price leader, we have found Carnival to be a favorite with young adults. Especially in the Caribbean, these ships have a non-stop party atmosphere. We have not cruised with Carnival outside of the Caribbean so other itineraries may be less that way. The food and service have generally been good and the cabins a bit roomier then many.

Royal Caribbean – Good value in a cruise line and really focused on families. It has one of the best kids’ programs at sea with great entertainment options. Many of the ships have basketball courts and climbing walls and a couple have ice skating rinks and Flo-Rider surfing. Some of their newest ships have simulated sky diving and an amusement park style area.

Celebrity – Features a step up in service and appeals to a more mature cruiser. We like this line because of the enrichment programs, which include lectures and classes. Celebrity also offers a number of longer itineraries and more exotic destinations than some of the other lines.

MSC Cruises – Has been trying to “break into” the U.S. Caribbean market with true two-for-one pricing and has also offered to match your frequent cruising status from another cruise line. We have not, as yet, cruised with them.

Disney – The name alone says kids & family and you won’t be disappointed. From movie themed areas to Disney characters the whole ship is a Disney experience. One feature that really appeals is an evening dinner rotation that moves your group to a different style restaurant each night and your table staff goes with you. Oddly Disney is also really good at providing adult only areas that are more strictly enforced than other lines.

Plans and Perks – If you plan on cruising on a regular basis, even as infrequently as once every year or two, you should still join a cruise line loyalty program. Royal Caribbean’s is The Crown & Anchor Society and it’s free to join. If you don’t join you won’t earn the points. In their case, once you reach Diamond status you get a dedicated lounge on board with specialty coffee, some free internet, a free photograph, a special gift and a free cocktail party each evening. Priority boarding and other perks are also offered.

 

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Royal Caribbean Flo-Rider

Carnival Cruise Line has their VIFP Club with members-only promotions, invites to cocktail receptions while you sail, priority boarding & more. Like most programs, the more you cruise the more you get.

Celebrity has the Captain’s Club  and when you reach Elite status you get access to the Captain’s Club Lounge for daily coffee house style breakfast and evening Cocktail hour. Other features are complimentary 90-minute Internet package, some complimentary dry cleaning and laundry on every sailing, a private shipboard departure lounge serving continental breakfast, priority tender service in tender ports of call and more…

If you’re going to cruise anyway, you would be wise to commit your loyalty and begin accumulating some perks.

One additional note, Celebrity is part of the Royal Caribbean family along with Azamara and frequent cruise status can be extended in a one-time transfer between these cruise lines.

Singapore

Most people, when they talk about Singapore, speak in superlatives but, the simple truth is, mere words just aren’t enough. We flew to Singapore on United 1 from San Francisco a seventeen plus hour flight

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Gardens by the Bay

and had booked a room at the Grand Mercure Singapore Roxy in the heart of the historic Katong District.

The hotel is halfway between the airport and the Marina Bay District and offered a free airport shuttle. The facility is

China Town

modern, the rooms are comfortable and the staff is friendly and helpful. A great buffet breakfast is offered and, depending on the category of stay, may be included in the rate. The location is near shopping malls (Parkway Parade Shopping Center is across the street) and restaurants and just a few blocks from East Coast Park.

After walking to the park, you are amazed by the view out to sea. It looks as if half the ships in the world are either anchored just off shore or are cruising by. Looking at a map you will notice that the South China Sea is blocked to the east by the Southeast Asia peninsula. The first opportunity that eastbound shipping has sailing from China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Vietnam and all the other nations of the area is past Singapore and thru the Straights of Malacca (also sp. Melaka). That’s a lot of cargo bound for Europe, Africa, the Middle East and India all moving right past Singapore. That may also help explain why this city-state has become so rich and important.

The stories about the strict laws and their enforcement are mostly true. It seems that even chewing gum in Singapore is against the law because the government thinks it messes up the streets. When you arrive in country, your immigration form explains that selling drugs is punishable by death. While civil libertarians may be shocked, the obvious result is one of the most modern, safe and clean cities we have ever visited.

English is an official language taught in all schools along with Malay, Mandarin and Tamil but almost all signage is in English making it easy to get around and find things. The city boasts a world class rapid transit system, the MRT that is easy to access, purchase tickets for and understand. The system offers an all-day ticket but we found it cheaper to purchase roundtrip fares to specific destinations. The cleanliness is also striking. No graffiti anywhere and you could probably eat off the floors.

Singapore boasts dozens of world famous restaurants and clubs, a Universal Studios theme park, one of the world’s great zoos, a water park, aquarium and two botanical gardens, the newest and most spectacular being Gardens by the Bay. Almost everything can be reached via the MRT or an inexpensive taxi ride. The city also boasts a Chinatown and a Little India which offer inexpensive shopping and eating options.

Singapore is home to a number of Hindu Temples  because of the Indian labor brought in by the British when they established a trading post in the early nineteenth century. The oldest, Sri Mariamman Temple dates back to 1827. The Sri Senpaga Vinayagar Temple is located on Ceylon Road, a few blocks from the Grand Mercure Roxy. It was built by the Sri Lankan Tamils for the Hindu God Ganesha.

While not a destination for bargain hunters because of the high cost of living, the city is home to a number of malls and department stores along with high-end specialty shops. Singapore shows off with a modern skyline and one of the newer additions is the triple towers of the Marina Bay Sands. This complex features a hotel, a casino and 170 plus premium brand stores capped by a connecting roof garden floating at the top. It is home to a number of restaurants operated by the likes of Wolfgang Puck, David Myers and Gordon Ramsay.

The popular symbol of Singapore is the Merlion, a lion with the body of a fish. While there are supposedly a number of local legends about the history of the Merlion the truth is it was created for the tourist board in the sixties as a marketing tool. The official symbol of Singapore is a red graphic of a lion’s head.

Photos top to bottom: Singapore skyline at night, Gardens By The Bay, Chinatown, ships at anchor, MRT map and train, Botanical Gardens, Figure at Hindu Temple, Skyline featuring Marina Bay Towers


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Cruising the South China Sea

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A First Visit to Southeast Asia

We spent all of February cruising with Celebrity’s Constellation in the South China Sea on back-to-back itineraries. We visited twelve ports with only one repeat (Ho Chi Min City). If you are going to fly twelve thousand miles you probably should make the most of the trip. We flew into Singapore and with the return for the second cruise and the extra day in port at the end we had five days to explore the city and all we could say was wow! The ship also spent two days in the port for Bangkok and we spent that night in a Bangkok hotel and booked a private tour (more about that at another time ;-).

Beyond the usual reasons for cruising there was an additional advantage on this trip. If you are not into a diet of noodles with dried fish flakes or hot curries, the ship gives you the opportunity to return to a Western style menu. The ship also takes care of visas and immigration ahead of each port.

Besides our time in Singapore our trip included four stops in Vietnam, Hong Kong, two stops in the Philippines which included Manila, two stops in Borneo, Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia, Brunei and two stops in Thailand. We had an opportunity to see a lot as well as try a number of cuisines. Many of the destinations were studies in extreme contrasts but it was also obvious that things are greatly improving economically. It is also interesting to switch from Muslim to Buddhist to Western cultures as we went from one port to the next. On board there were a number of excellent in-depth lectures on the history and culture of the various countries which provided a good perspective on the ways the region developed.

Over the last number of years we have found cruising gives us an opportunity to sample a number of places and than we decide where we want to come back to for extended stays. Southeast Asia is no exception to this and we certainly have a few we will add to our return list.


Phone Service: We were traveling on this trip with an iPhone 5 on Verizon service ($80 for 250 international minutes)and with a Blu 5.5 phone with a prepaid international plan from One Sim Card service. Vietnam and Brunei were not part of the Verizon international service so we switched use to OneSimCard. Phone calls with Verizon worked well everywhere else but there were problems getting text messages out on a few days. The only reliable data that we found on the Verizon service was in Singapore (didn’t attempt in Hong Kong) most other places indicated “Data Service Failed”. The One Sim Card service worked as expected except in Vietnam. There we connected with the recommended service provider (Viettel) but instead of text messages costing the expected 25¢ they were charged at a couple of dollars. One Sim Card did send a text message warning of high costs on this service recommending we switch networks, even though Viettel was their recommended provider.


In the near future look for posts covering each of these countries with pointers on must do things, food, transportation and hotels.

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Cruising and The Jones Act

Why can’t you book some back to back cruises?

Ever tried to book back-to-back cruises and the cruise company says you can’t book it because it invokes the Jones Act? The Jones Act is a 97-year-old regulatory relic instituted during the Wilson administration to protect our maritime industry. The short description says that you cannot transport cargo or passengers between two American ports unless you use ships built in American shipyards, flagged as an American ship and crewed by U.S. citizens. The problem for the cruise industry is America doesn’t build cruise ships any more, it is expensive to flag ships in the U.S. and even more difficult to staff ships with U.S. citizens.

While it is a nuisance for the cruise industry it is a disaster for American business and our economy. As of 2016 there are less than one hundred tankers in the world that meet the Jones Act requirements. Because of this it is cheaper to ship U.S. oil to Europe from Texas than to refineries in New Jersey. What that means is our oil companies import more expensive oil while at the same time we export our oil. While complicated the Jones Act is one of the things standing in the way of our energy independence.

One of the more insane things that happened as a result of the Jones Act occurred during the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Norway dispatched three specialized oil clean-up ships to help with the disaster but the U.S. government wouldn’t allow them to help because of the act.

There have been a number of locations where the cruise industry has wanted to serve the American traveler by embarking in one port and disembarking in another. Hawaii is one of those locations, with inter-island cruises as well as cruises originating on the West Coast. New England cruises and Alaska are two other cruise destinations that would benefit by not having a Jones Act. In the case of Alaska there are a number of popular week-long itineraries that go one way, but because of the Jones Act they are served out of Vancouver instead of the U.S. port of Seattle. We recently wanted to take the last Alaska cruise of the year from Seattle and stay on for a cruise from Vancouver to Hawaii but because we would embark in Seattle and disembark in Honolulu the Jones Act prevented it.

If you are a cruiser maybe it’s time you suggest to your congressman that the Jones Act has outlived its usefulness. Even if cruising isn’t your thing you should still consider contacting your congressman. The Jones Act costs you money at the gas pump by adding one or two billion dollars to fuel transportation costs each year and also prevents economical use of LNG in Hawaii, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and Guam. Puerto Rico is the most negatively impacted by a number of elements in the act. There are still a number lobbies that fight to keep the Jones Act from being repealed and that includes labor unions, like the long shoremen and law firms that work injuries at sea cases. It has been suggested a number of times that the act could be eliminated for our island territories at least and new laws could be passed designed to cover American labor impacted by the health issues involved. Unfortunately special interests still take priority in Congress over the interests of an uninformed public.

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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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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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