Cruising Through The Southern Caribbean
One of the best ways to escape cold Canadian winters is via Caribbean cruises.
Today's cruise ships offer as many amenities as most land-based resorts, and you get to sample a variety of islands instead of staying put on one. My most recent cruise in February took me to the dual Dutch/French island of St. Maarten/St. Martin, Dominica, Grenada, Tobago, Barbados and Puerto Rico.
I'm not a shopper, but duty-free bargains in Philipsburg in Dutch St. Maarten seem to be the biggest attraction for many shoppers. There are lots of beachfront bars and restaurants to relax at in town, but better beaches can be found on the French part of the island, which are easily accessible by government-regulated taxis.
Beaches aren't the main attraction in Dominica, and there's not much to see in the main port of Roseau outside of a great reggae bar with a wide variety of unusual rums that I discovered a couple of blocks from where our ship docked. There's lots of lush greenery and scenery all over the rest of the hilly island, however, and you can see much of it on the four-hour van tours offered from Roseau. Trafalgar Falls is one of the highlights of the tours, but those with more time on their hands should consider taking on some of the many inland hiking trails. Whale-watching tours are recommended for those who prefer spending more time on the water.
The spice island of Grenada offers the best of the Caribbean, with beautiful vegetation and sights inland that can be seen on a half-day van tour with government-approved guides. Grand Etang National Park is the island's largest forest reserve and contains excellent hiking trails that range from easy 15-minute strolls to rigorous expeditions of several hours. Trails wind past cascading waterfalls with inviting swimming holes and lead up to a volcanic crater lake. Fort George offers great views over the city of St. George's and its harbour. World-renowned Grand Anse Beach is just a 10-minute cab ride from downtown St. George's.
Tobago's capital of Scarborough doesn't offer much aside from the 230-year-old Fort King George, which sits about 150 metres above the town. It's a vigorous, though not over-taxing, walk to the top and offers fine views of the coastline. A small museum tells of the fort's history and includes many artifacts from the region. Pigeon Point Beach is accessible by taxi and offers a relaxing way to spend the rest of your day.
A walk around Bridgetown, Barbados will let you see the parliament buildings, National Heroes Square, Queens Park and some historic churches and synagogues. You can cap your city jaunt with a 45-minute multimedia tour and tastings at the Mount Gay Rum Visitors Centre. Three-to-four-hour van tours will let you see much of the rest of the picturesque island, and you'll likely see and maybe even get to feed some of its green monkeys.
Old San Juan has been well-preserved and features large walls, sprawling forts, brightly painted old buildings, colonial plazas and cobblestoned streets as its main attractions aside from its many fine restaurants and stores. It's pretty easily walkable, but a free trolley will also take you around the old part of the city and its forts. Small beaches and modern hotels are a short distance away in the newer part of the Puerto Rican capital.