- Packing for the Trip
- Airline Baggage Policy
- Cruising and The Jones Act
- The Power of Lists
- Houseplant Care While Traveling
- Technology for Traveling I
- Tech for Travel Update
- Cell Phone Navigation
- International Cell Service Options
- Cruise Ship Communications
- International Travel and Email
- Laundry: A Problem With a Solution
- Duty Free Exemptions
- Travel Insurance
- Cruise Line Loyalty Programs
- FYI Links (#1)
- TSA and Sequins
- Getting to Cruise Ports in Florida
- Airline Baggage Fees
- Singapore MRT
- Free Immigration FastPass
- International Cell Roaming
- Save Booking a Cruise
- Travel Credit Cards & Identity Theft
- State Dept Advisories
- Cell Calls While Cruising
- Barcelona to Montserrat
- Barcelona, Heart of Catalonia
- Dubrovnik, Croatie
- A Few Days in Florence
- Keukenhof In The Spring
- Kotor, Montenegro
- Normandy: A Place for Reflection
- Eight hours in Rome
- Getting Around in Rome (Part I)
- Getting to Civitavecchia
- Skagen, The Watch & Town
- See Venice and…
- Changing of the Guard Copenhagen
- Malaga, Spain
- Room with a Bath, London
- Getting Around in Rome 2
- Ravenna, Italy
- Gibraltar Apes
- Visiting Alaska’s Denali
- Cruising Alaska
- Cedar Key, Florida
- Georgia Wine Drive
- Savannah, GA
- Callaway Gradens, Georgia
- Hawaii, Planning a Trip
- The Geology of Hawaii
- Charleston, SC
- The National Parks of Utah
- Yellowstone, An American Treasure
- Hogsback Rt 12 Utah
- St. Petersburg, Florida
- Avoiding Crowds in Yellowstone
- Blue Springs, Florida
- Hogs Back Rt. 12 Utah
- Celebration, Florida
- Glaciers in Alaska
- LegoLand Florida
- Visiting a Liberty Ship
- St. Augustine, Florida
- Old Faithful Lodge
- Winter Garden, Florida
- Two Restaurants in Bangkok
- Trattoria Mario, Florence
- A Gem in Manila
- Best Pizza in Civitavecchia
- Happy Hour in Charleston, SC
- B&B in Charleston
- Shave Ice in Hawaii
- Cats & Wine in Charleston, SC
- One Hot Mama in Hilton Head
- Find at Disney World
- Tony’s in Cedar Key, Florida
- Champers in Barbados
- Cheeseburgers, St Croix
- Wine Bars in Rome
- Old Faithful Lodge
- Cruising the Caribbean Part I
- Cruising The Caribbean Part II
- Cruising the Caribbean III
- Cruising Alaska
- Cruise Line Loyalty Programs
- Getting to Cruise Ports in Florida
- Cruising and Cell Phones
- Cruise Ship Communications
- Beating The Jones Act
- Glaciers and Cruising Alaska
- Repositioning Cruises
- Saving Money Booking a Cruise
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:
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.
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.
General – This island is divided into two parts, Sint Maarten is the Dutch side while Saint Martin is the French side. It is a favorite cruise destination because the cruise port can handle several large cruise ships at one time.
Where You’re Docked – The cruise ships dock on the Dutch side close to the town of Philipsburg. The cruise ship docking area includes a large shopping village with several food and drink outlets. The Dutch town of Philipsburg is less than half a mile away walking. The town on the French side is Marigot and is decidedly French in character with a number of good bistros and restaraunts.
Transportation – From the cruise dock there is a boat shuttle service that goes directly to Philipsburg for about US$5 one way or US$8 for a day pass. It will require a taxi or a minibus to reach Marigot and you should be cautioned that with several large ships in port traffic can back up badly late in the day returning to the cruise ships, so allow plenty of time for the trip back. Taxi service is reasonably priced with a trip to the other side of Philipsburg costing less than US$5. A minibus to Marigot should be about US$5.
Money – While the two half’s of the island have their own currency the U.S. dollar is welcome on the Dutch side but Euros are usually required on the French side. Giving a 15% gratuity is common practice also.
Port St Maarten has a web site with a schedule of ship arrivals here.
- Philipsburg – The main town on the Dutch side with a large beach.
- Maho Bay Beach – Located at the end of the main airport runway. People seem to like to stand in the jet blast as planes land and takeoff. There is a bar on the beach.
- Marigot – A sleepy town on the French side noted for good food.
- Orient Beach – A beautiful beach near Marigot on the French side. Topless and nude bathing is common.
Temple Bar in Dublin is famous. Many people mistakenly think it actually is a bar but it’s not. In the seventeenth century a famous Dubliner, Sir William Temple was the provost of Trinity College. Sir Temple owned property along the river. In the river in front of his land was a sand bar and around that time a breakwater was built at the mouth of the river. That resulted in the sand bar growing and as it filled it became part of the real estate of the city. Locals began to refer to this land as “Temple Bar” and the districts name survives today.
The Temple Bar neighborhood today is an area famous for its nightlife and has a number of pubs and bars. In 1840 an establishment opened named Temple Bar Pub and today it is still a popular institution. It features good food, libations and live music. Every new visitor to Dublin should put a stop at the Temple Bar Pub on their list of destinations. From early in the day to late at night it is full of energy, serves good, moderately priced fair and features live Irish music.
Dublin has a reputation for good food and we lean strongly toward pub fare. Corned beef sandwiches, fish n’ chips, Oysters & Guinness, Irish stew to name a few. During our recent visit we took advantage of a few and were pleased with them all.
The Bank Bar and Restaurant opened in 2003 and located on College Green next door to H&M in the heart of Dublin. The name comes from the building originally being a bank and it still has its original character with lots of brass railings, tiles, and ornate ceilings. It offers primarily a pub menu and features a live piano player. We give it high marks.
Murrays Pub located on O’Connell Street just north of the Spire. This pub has a good reputation for food and features live music and Irish dancers in the evening. It had a welcoming comfortable feeling and a good Irish Coffee which was just the thing on a wet afternoon.
Grand Central Café Bar is also on O’Connell Street just south of the Spire. Located in a historic building that was shelled during “The Rising”, it offers a large collection of local beers and cocktails and an extensive menu of dishes, prepared in front of you in an open plan kitchen. It features music and dancing in the evening. Good food and service at reasonable prices.
Directly across the street from the Ha’penny Bridge on the south side is The Merchant’s Arch Bar which features live music and good bar snacks. We stopped in around happy hour time and joined in on a few Irish songs and a pint of Guinness. The atmosphere was lively and the staff was friendly and efficient.
For dessert and coffee look up The Wooden Whisk at 94 Talbot Street just a few blocks east of the Spire on O’Connell Street. It has a small deli and coffee shop vibe but after a few days of trying pastries and coffee around the city this was real find and the prices were more than fair.
And than there’s Starbucks. We have traveled the world in recent years and there is an American creation that has become as ubiquitous as McDonalds – Starbucks! From Australia to Thailand to Dublin you will probably walk past several Starbucks in a day. While we prefer local we also carry our Starbucks card with us when we travel, often because we know we can access free wifi. We’ve been told we can pay with funds on our card at any Starbucks worldwide but for some reason we have been skeptical. In Dublin we broke down (I needed to reload a Google map) and were surprised at the transaction. First it was instant. Second the receipt spelled out the transaction in Euros as well as the dollars used and the exchange rate was exactly what the mornings quote showed. Lastly it also showed the balance on the card in Euros as well as dollars.. Two big thumbs up for Starbucks.
- Be prepared for cold*.
- Be prepared for rain, sleet, snow and wind.
- Be prepared to be blown away (figuratively).
- Be prepared to be awed.
We visited Iceland in early May and that may have been a bit early in the season. We were told a few times that this place has a beautiful Summer but unfortunately nobody knows when that week will happen. During the time that we were there the daytime temperatures probably averaged in the high 20’s to low 30’s but with winds often gusting at 30 and 40 mph it really seemed colder.
You have to ignore the weather and let this country just overwhelm you. Reykjavík is a beautiful, clean and an easy city to walk around in. The centerpiece of the city is the Hallgrimskirkja (the Presbyterian Cathedral) standing almost 245 feet tall it towers over Reykjavik. The spire is open to the public with breathtaking vistas taking in the whole city.
The cities opera house, Harpa stands at the edge of the Reykjavik Harbor with Iceland‘s biggest concert hall suitable for a broad range of concerts and cultural events. The city is also home to the Imagine Peace Tower dedicated to John Lennon. It is a work of art conceived as a beacon to world peace by Yoko Ono. The work is designed in the form of a wishing well from which a powerful tower of light beams into the night sky.
Eating in Reykjavik can be an exotic experience considering the staple foods of this country (roasted puffin, sheep cheeks) but one item of note is their famous hot dogs. The most famous location is the Baejarins Beztu Pylsur stand located downtown just two blocks toward the water from the park in front of the government building. Most people order them all-the-way which includes a crunchy onion based relish, ketchup, a remoulade sauce and sweet mustard on a steamed bun. We just followed the trail of people walking up the street eating hot dogs and found them worth the walk. It is worth noting that most hot dog stands have no seating indoor or out and the only option is to order at the window and eat while walking away. We were also told you can order your hot dog Bill Clinton style which is with just mustard.
To get the real impact of this land you need to get out into the country where you can experience the real wonder of this unique place. Driving across Iceland you are immediately struck by the stark beauty of its landscapes. Snow covered tundra backed up against rugged snow-capped mountains.
One of the most popular trips is the Golden Circle tour with the three primary stops on the route being the Þingvellir National Park, the Gullfoss waterfall, and the geothermal area in Haukadalur, which contains the geysers Geysir and Strokkur. Though Geysir has been mostly dormant for a number of years, Strokkur continues to erupt every 5–10 minutes.
Þingvellir National Park is centered on an exposed rift where the North American tectonic plate is pulling away from the Eurasian plate. What is exposed is an opening between the higher plates with a walkway where you can stroll along Earths newest real estate.
While Iceland is one of the Earths most geo-thermally active places much is spread out over hundreds of square miles. Visiting Haukadalur was somewhat disappointing but that may have been because we had spent some time in Yellowstone just recently, Strokkur was erupting every five minutes while we were there but its energy was much lower than the famous Old Faithful. It didn’t help that the temperature was in the 20’s with a stiff wind blowing.
The highlight of the tour was the Gullfoss waterfall. This was an amazing multi-tiered waterfall dropping at a right angle into a deep gorge. The landscape exposed the typical Icelandic starkness mixed with energy of this amazing waterfall.
Above: Hallgrimskirkja (the Presbyterian Cathedral) in the center of the city.
This Port At A Glance
Port Location & Facilities – Cruise ships will normally dock at port facilities outside of town. Reykjavik is usually the supplier of shuttle service into town with a round-trip fare that seems somewhat over priced (this is probably related to the high cost of living in Reykjavik). If you don’t mind walking (weather permitting) there is a nice paved walk along the shore into town of only about two miles. There is no cruise ship terminal so ships have to make use of boarding ramps. For people with walking issues and wheelchairs it can be difficult.
City Character – Reykjavik is a beautiful city centered on its waterfront. It features a beautiful Presbyterian Cathedral as its centerpiece with nice shops, restaurants (be sure and have a Icelandic hot dog).
Nearby Trips – One of the nearest attractions is the Blue Lagoon. There are hourly bus transfers to and from Blue Lagoon from Reykjavík and a package that includes round-trip fare and admission should be under US$60. To get out and see the real wonders of Iceland you will need to rent a car (rental cars are not very expensive) or book a day tour. The most popular trip is the Golden Circle.
Above: The City of Cobh, Ireland viewed from the pier. Visitors Center and train station in foreground.
Central Cohb and the dock areaPort Location & Facilities – Cruise ships will normally dock right in town only steps from shops and restaurants and immediately next to the rail station. There is no cruise ship terminal for Cobh so ships have to make use of boarding ramps. For people with walking issues and wheelchairs it can be difficult.
City Character – Cobh is a picturesque city centered on its waterfront. It features a beautiful Cathedral, nice shops, restaurants and pubs and The Titanic Museum.
Nearby Trips – Cobh is the port servicing the City of Cork which is only a half hour away by train.
Cobh is also the nearest port to the town Blarney and its famous castle. Blarney is only a short additional distance on the same train line from Cohb to Cork.
Docking in Cobh you can easily catch a train right at the main station next to pier. Depending on time of day trains run every hour or half hour (usually every half hour if a cruise ship is docked). At this writing a one-way ticket to Cork from Cohb costs about $6. A day trip to Blarney Castle can easily be arranged at a cost of less than $35 per person (plus admission at the castle).
This is somewhat travel related but it is more a commentary on the nature of things in general.
A few years ago at an outdoor art fair in Ft. Lauderdale there was an artist showing watercolors of scenes in the Caribbean. One caught my eye as it was an old house that I thought I recognized and I asked if it was on St. Croix. She said yes and that she had lived there for a while so I bought it. In January of this year we made a trip back to St. Croix and without any real intent I found myself across the street from what I thought was that same house.
I can’t be sure it is the house as much of the house has probably changed over time and the architecture is common in the Virgin Islands, but it didn’t stop me from thinking about these kind of properties and how the island has failed to protect much of its history.
This house sits one street back from the sea on King Street in Frederiksted, St. Croix and is in an advanced state of disrepair. I have spent a lot of time in St. Croix over the past thirty-five years and can remember seeing this particular house a great number of times. I can never remember it being worthy of a spread in Architectural Digest but mostly it was one of the better properties on the street.
A major hurricane swept across St. Croix last September doing a significant amount of damage all across the island but the condition of this particular house appears more the result of time and neglect than that storm. The watercolor, which I believe was painted between ten to twenty years ago, shows it in much better condition than now.
Looking at this house from a historical perspective I am sure that a few hundred years ago this was a large and elegant townhouse in a thriving Dutch colonial town. Virgin Island towns were wealthy places with sidewalks covered with brick colonnades to protect people from the tropical sun and the frequent passing showers. Construction was mostly of locally fired brick with stucco coatings and upper floors were built of heavy wood with tall windows to catch the ocean breezes. Roofs we usually of hip-roof design to prevent hurricane winds from finding something to push against and windows and doors were protected with substantial shutters. Most townhouses also contained inner courtyards or rear gardens for comfortable outdoor living in the shade of mahogany trees.
Today as back than, St. Croix has two principle towns. Christiansted on the Northeast side of the island and Frederiksted on the West-end. Christiansted sits within a protective reef and features a good sailboat anchorage. In addition to housing the government buildings it also has a thriving tourist economy. Frederiksted, which is blessed with a deep water pier and a very attractive beach along the waterfront has struggled for decades just to stay alive.
On that January visit it was obvious that the island government had invested* in improving the pier, nearby support buildings, streets and waterfront parks. Unfortunately this seems to be just a facade on a crumbling town. Just one street back from the waterfront many buildings sit empty. There are few shops and restaurants, the streets are littered and there seems very little to engage cruise passengers when their ship docks here. If you look past the current decay you can catch glimpses of what this town once was and maybe imagine what it could become again but it is going to take a new plan and commitment by land owners and local residents to work a real change.
Consider cruise stops like Costa Maya, Sint Maarten, Roatan Island, and Willemsted. If other Caribbean locations can build cruise piers and entire visitor villages from scratch, why cannot St. Croix simply rehabilitate the town that is already there?
While cruise lines seem to be showing increased interest in St. Croix as a destination, we believe Frederikstead is now the biggest obstacle to developing this business for the island.
* I’m not sure I approve of thinking about government using the word investing when it relates to using tax dollars.
At A Glance
- YES. Working Industrial Port
- NO . Tender Port
- NO . Cruise Terminal
- NO Several Docking Locations
- YES . Walk Out from Port Permitted
- 4M Distance to CBD
- NO Near Public Transportation
Port Location & Facilities – Large cruise ships currently are docking in an industrial port. It is about a mile and a half walk to get out of the port and to the edge of the city proper (3Arena). There is currently no cruise ship terminal, so ships will have to use boarding ramps. For people with walking issues and wheelchairs it can be difficult. Most cruise ships will have arranged for shuttle buses into the city center (About $15 round trip on average). Taxis are also available but can be spotty after the morning rush. City bus service is not convenient to the ships.
Note: On our recent stop the ship did an overnight. We walked from the ship into the Temple Bar neighborhood and measured the trip at just under 4 miles total.
City Character – Dublin is a modern city centered on the river Liffey. It is a very walkable city that features a large number of historical sights along with popular attractions. Dublin also has a reputation for good restaurants, pubs and nightlife.
Sightseeing – The city has a number of sightseeing bus services that allow for hop-on, hop-off and currently average $20 per person per day and up. There are also a number of good walking tours. Check with a Tourist Information site (i).
Public Transportation – There is a Visitor Leap Card that allows you to ride all busses and light rail (called LUAS) at 1 day (24 hours) – €10.00 and 3 days (72 hours) – €19.50 and can be purchased at a number of locations around the city. There is also an automated bike rental system called Just Eat Dublinbikes that can also take the Leap Card.
Taxis – Taxi service is reasonably priced in Dublin. When cruise ships come in or are boarding/Disembarking there is likely to be a wait to get a cab. A recent ride from the port to a hotel in the CBD was €15 and from that hotel to the airport was €22.
Nearby Trips –While Dublin is the center attraction there are a number of day trips that can be arranged with a number of good tour companies like PaddyWagons.