We went on our first cruise in 2016, to the Greek Islands, and to our surprise, we had enjoyed it. So two years later, we decided to try another. Island hopping had worked for us, so we chose the South Caribbean—Aruba, Bonaire, Grenada, Barbados, St. Lucia, St. Kitts, St. Maarten. This particular cruise offered what we'd liked about the last cruise—more stopping/less time at sea—plus the perceived greater bonhommie of a smaller ship.


For the Greek islands, we'd just hopped off at each port and done our own thing, content with wandering the streets looking at galleries and the occasional meal. This time, it seemed wiser to book excursions on each island, both to see a little more and get more activity. Unfortunately, our travel agent died unexpectedly in the middle of the arrangements, and we discovered that she, quite understandably, may not have been on top of her game at the end: she hadn’t caught a couple of instances when the cruise arrived after the excursion had set off. Luckily, We caught these, cancelling the ones that didn't work and rebooked new ones that did. But after the dust had settled, one excursion, I suddenly realized, required kayaking and then snorkeling. In my present laid-back, retired state, my fitness level would prepare me for about 10 minutes of kayaking before I was exhausted, and I imagined the rest of the group of buff 20 year-olds paddling off into the distance. So I signed up for the gym, threw my back out in the first week and spent three days barely able to walk. It was only then that I realized that that particular excursion was one of the ones we’d cancelled and that I had instead booked the more civilized “Sailing and Snorkeling” instead!

The next surprise put a major dent in the hitherto polished (and naive) impression of cruise ship companies. At the suggestion of our travel agent, we had put the flights to and from the ship in the hands of the cruise line, as we were promised that if there were any problems the cruise line would handle them. We boarded the first flight to Toronto, but for one reason or another, take-off was delayed for an hour. This jeopardized our chances of making the connecting flight in Toronto. We weren’t too distressed as the cruise line would surely delay the sailing for an hour or make arrangements for us to catch up with the ship if it had to leave without us. However, in Toronto, we phoned the cruise line and found out that, yes, they’d take care of the flights required to catch up to the cruise but not the two nights of hotel or meals required—an expense of some $500. This seems to fall far short of the promise to 'cover any eventualities', and was going to cost us more than if we had booked our own flights! (We would have had booked one overnight stay in Toronto in order to guarantee making the flight to Miami.)

As it turned out, we were able to scramble aboard the cruise ship just before it left. But it soured our impression that cruise companies offered top-quality service.

Miami and ‘at sea’

The cabin was pleasing. The weather, a cool 68F...was better than the 37F we'd left behind, and it would gradually get warmer as we cruised past Cuba; it was definitely warm by the second day at sea. Fortunately, the novelty of the new surroundings maintained our interest for two otherwise dull days at sea.

Oranjestad, Aruba (Nov 30th)

The island has a couple of hills as features on an otherwise flat expanse but the Sailing/Snorkeling trip we had organized turned out well. Out on the catamaran, on the 20 minute ride to the first snorkeling stop, the crew began handing out flippers; I took a pair, but the two large ladies sitting next to us turned them down, which was not unexpected as they looked to be in their 80's. I asked them whether they just enjoyed the sailing, a question that seemed to puzzle them. When we got to the snorkeling spot, they reached for their bags, pulled out two pairs of up-market fluorescent green matching flippers, goggles and dive boots, put them on and plunged off the boat like dolphins. They took off up beach and were gone!

The water was unexpectedly cool, and while I got used to it I was glad to get out after about 20 minutes, having seen a wide variety colorful fish; Lyn enjoyed a longer dip. The old ladies were gone for an hour, and when they got back, reported that they had seen a puffer fish and lobsters.

Kralendjik, Bonaire (Dec 1)

A squall hit us in the morning as we docked, but the clouds lifted and Lyn was keen to do the Electric Bike Tour we had scheduled. We eventually found the guide and set off in a truck out of town to pick up the bikes. As we were arriving at the house, a second squall loomed dark overhead. I was already frozen from the truck ride and not as confident as the others were that it would "soon be over" so I took a cab back to the ship to dry out while Lyn and the others prepared to set out on the bikes.

At the end of the day, I met up with Lyn and sure enough, a major dump of rain had arrived as I departed and with follow-up squalls threatening from the intended direction of the bike ride, the guide had finally cancelled the tour...15 minutes after I left. So Lyn had a brief visit to the town and arrived back on the ship in time for the art classes (that she has been going to from Day 1).

Quite a disappointment, as we hadn't seen a lot of Aruba, and had seen even less of Bonaire. Thus far, our experience of the Islands had been minimal .

St. Georges, Grenada (Dec 2)

An improvement! We woke to find ourselves in a tidy harbour town (St. Georges) with a bit of bumpy landscape at last. But the cruise ship got in late and left early that day and it was also a Sunday, so our options were limited. We took a walk around a bit of a shabby town (not helped by the hurricane that hit the S. Caribbean a year ago), past about 10 Canadian banks. It's a pity, as looking at the web later, it seems as though there is lots to do further up the island. Seems like poor planning, to have a short stay on an island where it takes time to reach anything interesting.

Bridgetown, Barbados (Dec 3)

I was booked for a volunteer day with the Salvation Army. It took me a while to walk through the town and find the place, as the directions I received seemed only loosely related to where the place actually was. I spent the time there chopping carrots and cauliflower and chatting with the good ladies in the kitchen. Hilarious. But they confirmed what I had experienced: that Barbadians have a curious relationship with directions. If they point left, they could mean 'turn right' and if you are told to look out for a brown house, be prepared for the house to be green. I admire the Sally Ann. I'm uncomfortable with the military/Christian model, but they do good work. I asked about their beliefs and workings. "Marissa" explained everything patiently but made no attempt to convince me to join them. Very nice people.

Lyn had an adventure with a guided tour group that she arranged spontaneously, and enjoyed herself.

We only saw Bridgetown and not much of that. The economy is down and the town looks a little seedy. Of course, that was bound to be the case around the Sally Ann, but Lyn reported similar impressions where she went. Not a great deal of contour to the countryside.

Castries, St. Lucia (Dec 4)

When we got up, Castries, the port/capital of St. Lucia was shrouded in mist down to the water and it was raining hard! But here at last was a really

hilly almost mountainous terrain. We were supposed to be doing a 7 hour day-trip including just about everything and the weather didn't look promising but when it let up after breakfast we decided to chance it.

We found and boarded the catamaran that was to take us down the coast and back for the day. This was a larger boat than in Aruba and there were about 30 others on board; more importantly, there was cover from the continuing rain! We set off more or less on time, and headed out past cliffs shrouded still in rain; we had a couple of squalls on our way south to Soufriere. An hour and half later we saw the two Pitons (photo at left: Gros at 2530'; Petit at 2438') ahead at the South of the island. But suddenly we were heading out to sea instead of into town! The captain had spotted a pod of pilot whales. As we approached he cut the engine and we drifted towards them. They didn't seem the least perturbed, and continued to roll about and around the boat. Then we saw dolphins—about 30 of them another 50 meters on—and actually had a few surface and dive alongside. But then they all disappeared.

We turned into Soufriere and disembarked. We spent most of the day around this, the original capital of St. Lucia. The highlights were a tour of the excellent gardens, where a wide variety of plants from all over the world seem to do very well here. We were guided by "Alexander the Great"; we figured by the rate of his deliery that he had sampled a great deal of coffee before we arrived! Then headed up to look at the still steaming mud pools in the caldera of the volcano 1000 feet above Soufriere that, we were assured, had been dormant for 250 years...it was only if the steaming were to stop that we would have any reason to flee the area.

Did a bit of snorkeling on the way back up the coast (photo at right; Lynda the dolphin featured); floated into Marigo Bay to have a look at Mick Jagger's various palaces scattered up the hillsides; were dropped off right next to the cruise ship on the way back. As there had been free drinks available for the ride back (alcohol cannot be served before snorkeling), the captain had to announce a dozen times that ONLY the cruise ship passengers should disembark here.

Finally felt as though we had got to know the island a bit better than the others. Lots here to see.

Basseterre, St. Kitts (Dec 5)

Nice to have clear, sunny skies on our way in this morning. Bit of a wind, and two large cruise ships right behind ours when we tied up. Our excursion this morning is titled "St. Kitts Highlights". Our guide is a Rastafarian type who introduces himself as "Jean the Magician" and keeps up a good patter as we ramble across to the other cruise ship pier and pick up more subscribers. We drive around town and head north up the coast from Basseterre. It's a hilly rather than mountainous island, but with a few larger lumps in the distance that apparently we're heading for. The lower slopes apparently once were all sugar cane fields but the government finally got fed up with subsidizing a losing harvest (on this island) and went wholly for tourism. Since then, it has gradually developed housing on the old cane fields and we pass through a series of villages named after the owners of the plantations once here. It all looks a little ramshackle but not run down and we enjoy the continuous stories of Jean's early life in these parts. After a pleasant 45 minutes and a stop at a very colorful garden, we reach Sandy Point. The bus climbs 800 feet to the fortress at the top, (passing with inches to spare through a series of narrow stone arches) for views over this side of the island.

It's finally the sort of get-to-know the island tour that we had hoped for. The other trips had been touristy activities giving us very little insight into the island, the commerce, and way of life. This tour at least gave us a bit of a feel for St. Kitts and how "Kitticians" live.

Tortola, British Virgin Islands(Dec 6)

Our last stop! We were supposed to stop in St. Maartens for a hike along the coast, but a last minute change required us to sign up for a hike/swim on Tortola. We were up for breakfast before the ship docked in Road Town, the capital of this the largest island of the 60 some in the British Virgin Islands. We mounted our safari style (open-sided) tour taxi and our guide this morning was a cheerful gentleman with the unusual habit of delivering each of his ponderous pronouncements twice. Road Town port is built on salvaged land at the bottom of a kind of cavernous bowl of hills with housing going all the way up to some 1500 feet. Very hilly. We began our tour with a hair-raising climb on a busy road barely wide enough to allow cars/buses to pass in opposite directions (lots of traffic heading the other way). We climbed about 1200 feet, and at that point crossed above the town heading north to our destination of Sage Mountain. Since the peak was measured at 1782 feet, we had expected a bit of a hoof for our hike but it turned out that we drove up 1500 feet of it and the "hike" was no more than a short, mucky slog up between very dense undergrowth to reach the view platform at the top. Still, we had good views and about a mile total hike so it was better than nothing. Then out, and down to the Atlantic coast for a swim on a beach crowded mostly with people speaking German. Finally on the drive back, a quick view of the US Virgin Islands in the distance, as well as a steady recount of who owned which of the BVI group of islands, and how much each could be rented for.

But it was another good day in terms of getting to know the island and its history.

End of the trip

Two uneventful days at sea...back to Miami, and an equally drama-free flights home via Dallas.

Overall Impressions

The Islands/Overall

I suppose we went with half a mind to see whether and which of the islands might be worth returning to. If we'd thought it through, we'd have realized that our excursions would not take us to the places we might like to return to, so we'd have make do with vague impressions. Likely any and all of the islands have sufficient interest for a week; St. Lucia and Tortola looked mountainous enough to have interesting hiking. Less impressed with St. Kitts and Barbados but that might be for entirely wrong reasons.

Birds and animals

The "national bird of St. Kitts" is the Brown Pelican and we saw these on most of the islands. But the commonest bird was the Frigate Bird. There are three varieties: the Great, the Lesser and Something in Between. All three could sometimes be seen overhead at the same time, but only once or twice did we see them dive for fish. Saw Brown and Red-footed Boobies out to sea, skimming the waves and looking for fish; two species of hummingbird on St. Lucia. But surprisingly we didn't see that many birds, possibly because they generally come out in the mornings and are scarce during the heat of the day.

The Ports

One would have thought it advisable to dock cruise ships in a refined part of town, where tourists can wander off the ship straight into the waiting arms of the usual predators, squander all their money in a wide variety of ways, before they rush back on board in time for lunch. But no, we often disembarked in a distinctly industrial area some distance from "town", leaving us with the problem of finding out where the sights (and shopping) might be, and then the further problem of getting there.

Shipboard generally

If you've cruised you'll know the drill but for those of us still getting used to the idea, it is a different life. The cabins are comfortable—one doesn't expect spaciousness but they aren't too snug either, a large enough bed and plenty of room in the bathroom—bath and separate shower. We had a verandah with a door that could be kept open—as we did for our Greek island cruise—but this time we kept shut for most of the trip because it was either too windy out or there was rain.

Filling one's time while not on shore was a chore. There were activities during the day—Lyn did art classes every day; I went to the gym or drank coffee and wrote but there is also a library. The ping-pong was out on the deck by the pool; I went once but the winds meant that the ball seem to have a mind of its own. The TV and internet offerings were bare minimum.

The coffee bar looked out over the pool and that more or less defined a divide. There were those who claimed the loungers around the pool as soon as the sun rose and barely moved all day. Some went for an occasional swim, if only to reassure onlookers that they were still among the living. A regular contingent marched steadily around the pool all day—some of them for the exercise.

Our fellow passengers are of a certain cut. Those unable to afford the expense obviously weren't here and neither were those rich enough to afford their own yachts; we were the assorted in-betweens: some showed up to dinner dressed formally while there were others sporting beards, tattoos and ragged shorts. Lyn and I both felt uncomfortable with the food waste. We did notice that unlike the Celebrity cruise we were on, food was dished out by servers and passengers were discouraged from helping themselves. This did perhaps prevent people from taking more than they needed but I found too often that the servers gave me more than I wanted so presumably there was some kind of trade-off.  Food was very good. We mostly opted for the buffet dining throughout the trip. We did try one of the specialty restaurants—where waiters come to the table and one orders from a menu. The food was fair, but buffet dining offered more variety without the several inconveniences of, a fixed time and menu, and then the delays of waiting for a waiter to take an order and bring a meal. There seemed no reason to return to "speciality" dining.

We often shared a dining table with others (in the buffet) and had the predictable conversations. Most had cruised a lot (we were the exception) and talk was about past cruises and places, which were of some interest. It seemed that there was an unspoken understanding that politics were to be generally carefully avoided (although, we suspected that many of the Americans were Democrats). I did get into a Brexit discussion with one Brit who was a Leaver, and the conversation only reaffirmed my original decision to move to Canada.

The ship was half the size of the Celebrity (our Greek Island ship) and we did notice that it seemed to register the buffeting of the waves and winds a little more. People on this trip were a little more friendly than on the Celebrity cruise; more European than American— which is odd, for a cruise out of Miami. Nothing major though. We heard that two women who had been aboard the Queen Mary coming across the Atlantic had broken their legs in separate mishaps so there is some adventure to cruising!


The trip was a pleasant enough break; it was nice to get a break, to see some of the islands and get some warmth. And while the shipboard routine was occasionally dull, it was pleasant nonetheless. The greyish tone of these notes, probably reflects a poor start to the cruise (and annoyance with the cruise line); weather that was more rainy and overcast than we'd expected; and a longer haul at sea that showed up the difference between activities that we enjoy and those that we don't.

But it was a discovery after our return that soured us, and made this our last cruise. I was doing some further research when I got back and stumbled across web discussions from past cruise passengers who had had problems with norovirus. It seems that if one contracts norovirus on a cruise (something quite possible, given that cruise lines are keen to cover up recent incidences), that the sufferer is seen to be at fault! He or she is confined to their cabin for the remainder of their trip, and offered no compensation! This would seem to be clearly at odds with the reasonable conclusion that the virus was already on board when the passengers embarked.

Further dealings with cruise lines seems unappealing.