Ship Ahoy: Caribbean cruise portsAug 17, 2018
Photo: Curacao's Mega Pier Tula is where the big ships dock, Credit: Curacao Ports Authority
By: Melanie Reffes
The Caribbean is one of the most coveted cruising destinations in the world with millions of vacationers each year sailing into the wild blue wonder for an adventure on the high seas. Rivaling amenities at a posh resort, perks on the ships run the gamut from spas and casinos to rock-climbing walls, basketball courts and bowling alleys. Yes, a cruise may be your fantasy holiday for a week but the authentic Caribbean experience is in the cities and towns near the ports. Get off the boat, stretch your legs and explore on dry land, if just for an afternoon.
Photo: In Curacao, Mega Pier Tula is close to the capital city of Willemstad, Credit: Curacao Ports Authority
Curacao is a fan favorite with big ships like Royal Caribbean’s Freedom of the Seas and Celebrity Cruise’s Celebrity Equinox dropping anchor at the Mega Pier Tula while smaller ships dock at the terminals within the harbor. The cruise terminals are convenient for an afternoon of shopping at Fort Rif with bars, bistros, designer boutiques, casino that stays open late and the Kandela Lounge with an impressive humidor of Cuban cigars. For a leisurely stroll, cross the floating Queen Emma Bridge (yes, it really floats!) to the Punda side of Willemstad and peruse the pastel-pretty capital city lined with galleries, small shops and restaurants serving Dutch specialties like Keshi Yena; a cheesy stew baked in a Gouda wax shell. For cocktails and light bites close to the pier, snag a seat at the Blue Lobby Bar at the Renaissance Curaçao Resort & Casino www.
Photo: St Maarten aerial shot of port, Credit: Port St Maarten
In Sint Maarten, A.C. Wathey Pier fronts Great Bay Beach where you’ll find sun loungers and a boardwalk chockablock with cafes, bars and shops. A short walk from the beach, Front Street is action –central with duty-free bargains, craft market and Guavaberry Emporium where you can sample the potent liqueur made from the little red berry that grows in the hills. The newest shore excursion, Rainforest Adventures in the Rockland Estate Park is all about thrills and chills on the world’s steepest zip line and the Schooner Ride where the brazen glide through large inner tubes. “We encourage cruise shippers to enjoy a day at our eco-adventure park where there’s plenty to do before you head back to the pier, “ said Shaydar Edelman, general manager. www.rainforestadventure.com. If you prefer to keep your feet on terra firma, book a tour to Topper’s Rhum Distillery. “We offer round -trip transportation from the pier, sips in the distillery and a barbecue lunch, “said manager Dave Herbert. www.toppersrhum.com
Photo: Rainforest Adventure in St. Maarten is the island's newest attraction, Credit: Rainforest Adventures
Boats, bistros and black pineapples
Photo: Pointe Seraphine in Castries is Saint Lucia's largest cruise port, Credit: Matt H. Wade
In Saint Lucia, big boats like Royal Caribbean’s Freedom of the Seas that carries up to 6,000 passengers and crew dock at the newly-expanded Pointe Seraphine within walking distance of the charming town of Castries. At the port, you’ll find duty-free shopping and taxis that make the short trip to Choc Beach and to Rodney Bay where the parade of boats bopping on the water is eye candy for photographers. For those spending an entire day on land, Island Routes offers catamaran tours that stop at the only walk-in volcano in the world, mud baths, Diamond waterfalls and Botanical Gardens. www.islandroutes.com
Photo: Mud baths are popular with those looking to get off the cruise ship for an afternoon, Credit: Island Routes
Photo: Heritage Quay in Antigua is where the cruise shops dock, Credit: Matt H. Wade
Convenient for day trippers, Antigua’s finger piers called Heritage and Redcliffe Quays are in the capital city of St. John’s and popular pit stops for uber-ships like MSC Cruises, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Lines. Nearby, Farmer’s Market is fun with chatty vendors selling sweet Antiguan black pineapple which alone is worth the stroll from the pier. Taxis and buses make the short trip to the former sugar plantation called Betty’s Hope and Shirley Heights overlooking English Harbor especially lively Sunday afternoons when rum punch and reggae rock the party. www.antigua-barbuda.org/
Photo: A panoramic view of Prince George Wharf
The largest port in The Bahamas, Prince George Wharf in Nassau welcomes up to 7 big ships at the same time. Taxis (look for those with yellow license plates), buses that are called jitneys and horse-drawn surreys (yes, real horses) make the short trip to see Fort Charlotte, Straw Market and for those with tykes in tow; Pirates Museum is a fun house with whole lotta campy loot in the gift shop. To hang ten with a frosty Kalik beer and a handful of conch fritters, head to Paradise Island, a seashell away from the port via water taxi. If you’ve got a big chunk of time before your ship departs, check out Dolphin Encounters, Ardastra Gardens where the flamingos march in unison or go for the green at the 18-hole Nassau Cable Beach Golf Course. www.nassauparadiseisland.com.
Burgers and beer on the beach
Photo: Jamaica's Falmouth Cruise Port is the newest on the island, Credit: Jamaica Tourist Board
On the northeast coast of Jamaica, Falmouth Cruise Port is big enough to host Royal Caribbean’s gigantic Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas. In one of the most storied cities dating back more than two centuries, Falmouth is also where Olympian Usain Bolt was born. Close to the port, Historic Falmouth by Trolley takes history buffs to the remnants of the once bustling sugar industry, Baptist Church that was the headquarters of the movement to abolish slavery, centuries-old Jewish cemetery and mom and pop bars worth checking out. For the more adventurous, there are horseback riding tours and day trips to Dolphin Cove and Mystic Mountain. For the ultimate chill-out, chug a bottle of Red Stripe beer on Red Stripe Beach; the closest beach to the port. http://hfcport.com
Photo: Approaching Charlestown on Nevis - Nevis Peak in the distance, Credit: David Broad
In Nevis, passengers are brought ashore by tender to a small pier in Charlestown, the capital city. Close to the pier you’ll find the Museum of Nevis History and the tourism office where you can pick up gratis maps and brochures. Taxi drivers double as guides or rent a car and make a beeline to Pinney Beach for a Killer Bee cocktail at Sunshine’s , Nisbet Planation for a burger on the beach or the Four Seasons Nevis Resort for sushi and sake by the water’s edge. Nevis Adventure Tours offers rainforest hikes and mountain climbs, Leeward Islands Charters arranges catamaran cruises and if you’re on the island on Sunday, brunch at The Hermitage is a knocks-your-socks-off West Indian feast. www.nevisisland.com