Tobago

fullsizeoutput_d4aThe country of Trinidad and Tobago is a dual island nation located off the coast of South America. Each island has its own personality and unique identity. Tobago is considered the laid-back part of the country with a slow pace lifestyle. Tobago is best known for the island’s nature reserve (Tobago Main Ridge Forest Reserve) and bird watching. Trinidad on the other hand is considered an entertainment capital. Trinidad is home to the world-famous Carnival held on the island each year (most likely you’ve seen numerous photos of this event online). Fun fact, Trinidad and Tobago is also the birthplace of calypso music, limbo, and the steelpan drum.

Our itinerary only took us to the island of Tobago. Interestingly the country is not a typical destination visited by many US based cruise lines. This actually made it hard to figure out our plans. Before our arrival in Tobago, we had nothing planned for our day. I searched online and most of the private tours did not interest us since the focus was on bird watching (not my thing!). The few shore excursions offered by Princess Cruises were overpriced and didn’t offer much either.

IMG_3363

We had finally decided to just walk around the town area but luckily found a taxi while walking through the terminal. This turned out to be a good thing since many of the shops were closed because the island was celebrating Boxing Day a day late! There was a stand in the terminal for the official taxi company on Tobago offering set prices for specific tours of the island. The taxi took us around Tobago and the tour lasted around 3 hours.

Interestingly the driver, Chris, was also starting his own tour company on Tobago. I actually just came across his website finally and will include the link for anyone interested in a private tour of Tobago. The tour company is called CP’s Tours and Taxi Service.  If you are looking for a private tour, I would highly recommend Chris. We found Chris to be extremely professional and knowledgeable about Tobago.

Our time on the island took us to three historic forts. The first stop of the day took us to Fort King George. Fort King George was built in the 1770s by the British. The fort is actually one of the best preserved colonial era buildings on Tobago. The fort and remaining cannons overlook the impressive coastline. The view is really a must see here! There is a museum on the property which we did not view.

After walking around Fort King George, Chris took us further up the Atlantic coastline to Fort Granby. Not much remains of the former Fort Granby, though the headstone of a former British solider still remains on the grounds. Today the area is covered with benches, gazebos, and a maze of trees. The fort provides a great opportunity to view both Barbados Bay and Pinfold Bay.

From Fort Granby, we next headed towards Fort James. Before stopping at Fort James, we first visited the Mystery Tombstone. The Mystery Tombstone is located in Plymouth and is from 1783. The tomb of Betty Stiven has created much debate over the years due to the odd choice of language inscribed:

“Beneath these walls are deposited the body of Mrs. Betty Stiven and her child. She was the beloved wife of Alex B Stiven. To the end of his days will deplore her death, which happened upon the 25th November 1783 in the 23rd year of her age. What was remarkable of her, she was a mother without knowing it, and a wife without letting her husband know it except by her kind indulgence to him.”

There are many hypothesizes about the tombstone and what may have transpired. The tombstone is an interesting piece of history that will probably always remain a mystery.

Betty Stiven Tombstone

From the Mystery Tombstone, it was a short drive to Fort James. Fort James overlooks Great Courland Bay. The fort was established in the 1760s by the British. During the fort’s history, the fort came under attack a few times. The first time was by slaves on the island, another time was by the French who captured and occupied the fort until the British later recaptured the island. Today not much remains at the fort besides four cannons and a small building.

After visiting three of the historical forts on the island, we then were driven around the Tobago more and stopped for a brief time near a popular fishing spot. From here we had a view of a nearby sandbar and a popular beach. Once we took a few photos we then headed back to the ship.

The tour was a great way to become acquainted with the island of Tobago.

fullsizeoutput_d51

Bequia

DCIM102GOPROG0742586.

There is a good chance you probably aren’t familiar with the Caribbean island of Bequia (pronounced bek-way). Before we booked this trip, I’ll admit I knew next to nothing about the island. Bequia is typically not a destination on a lot of people’s radars, especially since this is not a typical cruise port. Before our visit, I had a hard time finding a lot of information about the island. Now looking back, I think it is amazing that Bequia is still under the radar; Bequia truly is an authentic Caribbean destination that has escaped from major overdevelopment.DCIM102GOPROG0642260.

Before talking about our time in Bequia, I just want to dive into some of the background about the island. Bequia is actually part of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG). SVG is also home to the famous island of Mustique. Mustique though has the reputation of being exclusive due to the islands popularity with celebrities and members of the British Royal Family. Bequia on the other hand is laid-back, with tourists and expats visiting on small yachts or sailboats.

Interestingly, Bequia has a rich maritime history of boat building, fishing, and whaling. Bequia actually still allows whaling today and is one of a few spots around the globe where limited whaling is still allowed to exist from the International Whaling Commission. There is debate though on the history of whaling in Bequia. Some individuals believe whaling was started on Bequia after 1875 by settlers and was not original to the island’s indigenous population.

DCIM102GOPROG0722498.

Our time in Bequia was spent during the Boxing Day holiday. Unfortunately, we experienced on and off rain during the day, but we didn’t let the rain dampen our experience. There is no major docking facility on Bequia for cruise ships, so all ships tender to shore. The tender ride was probably around 10-minutes long and passed many of the yachts in the harbor. We disembarked the tender at Port Elizabeth on a small dock that was well used during the day! Many of the yachts also used the small dock to tender over as well.

2015-01-10-14-48-39-1.jpgOutside the tender area there were taxi drivers offering island tours. We decided to pass on a tour and head out on our own. One thing we appreciated was the drivers not pressuring and badgering people. Compared to other places in the Caribbean, Bequia definitely has a laid-back vibe. Even though we passed on the tour at the time, I do wish we had taken one now and seen more of the island.

We ending up venturing down the Belmont Walkway towards Princess Margaret Beach. The walkway is literally on the water’s edge. The Belmont Walkway runs all the way along Port Elizabeth on the southern side of Admiralty Bay. Along the way we passed restaurants, cafes, bars, dive shops, small hotels, and a few little shops. Many restaurants and bars along the Belmont Walkway were open for Boxing Day, though we did encounter a few shops closed because of the holiday.

DCIM102GOPROG0662315.The Belmont Walkway is an easy and fantastic walk along the waterfront of Port Elizabeth. The walkway was actually restored a few years before 2016 to create safer pedestrian thoroughfare on the island. The walkway was extremely well used by locals and visitors!

At the end of the Belmont Walkway you arrive to Princess Margaret Trail (also referred to as the Belmont Coastal Trail). The trail is now an extension of the Belmont Walkway and provides locals and visitors an easier way to reach Princess Margaret Beach. The trail is a bit of a walk with stairs and hills but easily doable for most people. I would recommend a sturdier sandal, I unfortunately was wearing flip flops and this didn’t make the easiest walk.

DCIM102GOPROG0772648.

Once you are down the trail you arrive at the Princess Point Headland and Boardwalk (or causeway depending on where you read). This will actually take you to Princess Margaret Beach. I can truly see the Boardwalk being an easy way to reach the beach. Unfortunately, the Boardwalk sustained serious damage from Hurricane Matthew in late 2016 and only part of it was open. From the damaged point, signs noted use at your own risk. We could have reached the beach through the water and rocks, but we really weren’t wearing appropriate footwear to climb over rocks. Hopefully this cool Boardwalk will be rebuilt and opened again.

As we made our way back to the beginning of the Belmont Walkway we decided to stop for lunch at one of the many restaurants. We ended up at the Bequia Plantation Hotel, which is actually right near the start of the Princess Margaret Trail. Luckily, we stopped when we did since it started to rain. All 3 of us ordered the same special, fish and chips plus a rum punch. The rum punch was surprisingly delicious! The rum didn’t overpower the punch, plus the punch wasn’t watered down (not always the case!). The fish and chips were good, but the tartar sauce was some of the best we’ve had. May sound silly to some people but the tartar sauce literally made the meal. Unfortunately, I forgot to take a photo of the fish and chips since I was using my GoPro at the time.

After lunch, we headed towards the tender and made a few side stops. I ended up in a Batik shop and purchased a unique Batik pillowcase. The store is called The Garden Boutique and is located by the waterfront (next to St. Mary’s Church). All the Batik in the shop is hand painted and made in SVG by local artisans. Besides the pillowcase, the shop also sold clothes, Batik fabrics, and accessories. A lot of the items ranged in price from $30 to $70 USD. I feel this is reasonable for the amount of work that goes into Batik, especially a higher quality item that is handmade. I personally really enjoyed the shop and finding a locally made item (plus I feel it is important to support local businesses when traveling).

IMG_0862 2

Batik Pillowcase from Bequia

I can see why Bequia has been described by some as a perfect island. To me Bequia feels like the old Caribbean, before islands became overdeveloped with resorts and tourists. This is not an island filled with big chain jewelry stores or color changing souvenirs. Truly I think this is why Bequia struck me so much and I hope to one day return!

St. Kitts & Nevis

The last time we were in St. Kitts was in 2009 on a cruise where we ended up taking an entertaining island tour. The tour took us to Caribelle Batik and Brimstone Hill Fortress, which are must see stops in St. Kitts. After leaving the fortress the tour guide/driver drove over some sharp rocks, which of course caused a flat tire! This is one experience that has always stuck with me since part of the group got stuck changing the tire! This time we decided against another island tour of St. Kitts and we weren’t interested in going to any of the beaches on St. Kitts either. I then started exploring the idea of going to a nearby island for the day.

Technically St. Kitts is a dual island nation referred to as Saint Kitts and Nevis. You may already be familiar with Nevis from US history, thanks to Alexander Hamilton. St. Kitts is the larger island and home to the capital of Basseterre; Nevis on the other hand is both smaller in size and population. Now both St. Kitts and Nevis are covered in a tropical rainforest and interestingly both islands have volcanic origin. St. Kitts technically has a mountain reaching over 3,700ft (Mount Liamuiga).

St. Kitts

Sailing from St. Kitts to Nevis

For our day in St. Kitts we ended up taking a tour to Nevis. This is one time I would recommend a cruise line tour since the ferry schedule does not always work for the port schedule. If you are interested in the tour, the tour we took through Princess Cruises was Nevis Island Tour, Beach & Lunch. The title of the tour basically sums up the tour experience in a few words, but I will of course go into more detail!

For those wanting to go into St. Kitts, the docking location was not really convenient this cruise since there were other cruise ships visiting the island. The Pacific Princess drew the short end of the straw and ended up docking in an industrial area. Since we were on a tour the location had no impact luckily. The boat to Nevis met us right near the docking location for the Pacific Princess.

WR6jC0tgRUivb+8WYE4AGw_thumb_3ebbThe boat ride from St. Kitts to Nevis took around 45-minutes to an hour. Nevis is actually about 2-miles to the Southeast of St. Kitts. Now the boat used to cross the channel was fascinating since it felt like a large party boat. Truthfully, I’m not sure if the boat was really meant to cross a channel but we made it both ways at least! The boat dropped us off in the town area of Nevis and it later picked us up at the beach. Disembarking the boat was easy since it was on a pier. Now for those with mobility problems or someone who doesn’t want to embark a boat in sandy water, this tour may not be for you. (Note: I do recall people were surprised we got back on the boat at the beach. Some of the participants had on tennis shoes and were not prepared for a water entry)

Once we were in Nevis there was a line of vans waiting to pick up all the tour participants. The van portion of the tour took us around Nevis for about 2 hours. Right after boarding the van in Charlestown we drove past the birthplace of Alexander Hamilton. Now I do have to admit I was disappointed we did not stop at the house where Alexander Hamilton was born. Instead we had a quick photo opportunity from the van, which caused most of my photos to be pretty blurry. The house is considered to have great historical value to the island and I think this was a huge missed opportunity for the tour. I personally would have loved to stop at the house and walk around!

After the quick drive-by of the birthplace of Alexander Hamilton, the tour guide took us to the Bath Hotel and Spring House. Not to be Debbie Downer again, but I do think this part of the tour could have been skipped for something else. We mainly looked at the springs and had the opportunity to walk around a little. To be truthful there was not much to look at during this stop, which was too bad because Nevis was a neat island. The hotel is no longer in service and needs significant repairs. If the site was restored, I think this could be really interesting historical site. Unfortunately, it felt like much of the Bath Hotel and Spring House has been left in disrepair.

Next, we were driven around the island for a while and then stopped off at the Golden Rock Inn. This property stretches up the slopes of Nevis Peak and is one of many historical plantation inns on Nevis. The Golden Rock Inn is a small hotel (11 rooms) on 100 acres of land. The property is rather fascinating since it is steeped in history and dates back to the 1800’s. The former sugar mill has now been turned into a suite. Besides the history of the buildings, the property has an extensive tropical garden with beautiful fauna and flowers. The property is also home to Green Monkeys and a wide array of birds. From my understanding the property also features hiking trails for guests, which we did not have the chance to explore before leaving. If I was staying on Nevis for vacation, this property looked like a great relaxing hideaway.

Once we were done touring the Golden Rock Inn we then headed to lunch at the beach. The tour included lunch at a local restaurant, LIME Beach Bar. Typically, most cruise ship tours with lunch have been a bust over the years but this turned out to be a fantastic meal. We had a choice of barbecued chicken or fresh fish with salad and rice.

rEO0fYjlTOu5QBzAHYscXA_thumb_3fd9

This was a no-brainer and we all selected the fresh fish. The fish was moist and not overcooked, plus was a huge portion! We had around an hour for lunch and once we were done we could head to Pinney’s Beach right by the restaurant. We ended up waiting for a bit since it started to rain (more like pour). In the rain Pinney’s Beach looked a bit dingy, but cleared up once the sun came out!

We had about an hour to spend at the beach before heading back to St. Kitts. We actually could use the lounge chairs and umbrellas for free since we had dined at LIME Beach Bar. The tour description noted we would have to pay to use any beach chairs and luckily this turned out to not be true. The beach was popular with locals and there were quite a few people around since the holidays had started. There were also some other beach bars around besides the restaurant we ate at. We ended up just using the lounge chairs for the day. I would recommend wearing water shoes since there was a lot of glass on the beach, which was a problem encountered at most beaches in the Caribbean this vacation.

As noted earlier the boat actually picked us up directly at the beach. To me this was convenient because we didn’t need to clean-up before entering a van. Some tour participants were not prepared to step into the water and climb onto a boat. If you decide on a tour to Nevis from St. Kitts, just plan ahead for a beach entry. This is something the tour description did not mention, which could be a problem for some individuals. As we were leaving Nevis the sun came out and we had a gorgeous view of the clear water. With the sun finally out, Pinney’s Beach looked rather nice! The trip back to St. Kitts took around 45-minutes to an hour.

x4yDeyqmQMeySpqR%O3M7w_thumb_413d

This tour was a great alternative to St. Kitts for the day and I highly recommend visiting Nevis since the island does not have the commercialized feel of other Caribbean islands! Personally I really enjoyed Nevis and hope the island will be able to keep her charm.

 

*Note: During our time at Pinney’s Beach there was an incident that occurred with a group of individuals harassing marine life. Even if the incident was insignificant to some, I am still disgusted a group of passengers from the Pacific Princess (who were not kids or young) felt the need to remove a sea creature from its habitat. The poor sea creature was passed from person to person for photo opportunities and was out of the water for an extended period of time. When something was said to the passengers about putting the sea creature back in the water, they begrudgingly responded to the request. Later the sea creature was removed again by the same group for photos. I can only imagine the outcome for the sea creature after being out of the water for extensive periods of time.

Please remember when traveling to respect wildlife and marine animals. It truly does not matter how small, large, or inconsequential an animal may seem, you should not touch or remove wildlife from their habitat. Everyone needs to take responsibility when traveling, even if its just a friendly reminder to tourists about keeping their hands to themselves!

St. John, USVI

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_364bThe first stop of the cruise visited the US Virgin Island of St. John. If you aren’t familiar with the US Virgin Islands, the islands are a territorial region of the United States and include the islands of St. Thomas, St. Croix, and St. John. Typically, most cruises lines stop at St. Thomas, which is the most populated island in USVI and a massively popular cruise port. This cruise itinerary was on the unique side because it stopped at St. John instead. Not often do cruises lines include St. John on the itinerary.

An interesting fact about St. John is over half the island is a US National Park. Trunk Bay, one of the most famous beaches in USVI, is located on St. John and is also part of the US National Park Service. Furthermore, the beach at Trunk Bay has been voted as a top ten beach by Conde Nast Traveler. If Trunk Bay doesn’t meet your needs, there are numerous other beaches on the island, including Cinnamon Bay, Maho Bay, and Hawksnest.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_364e

Now some of you may already be familiar with St. John because of a trip over from St. Thomas. The ferry from St. Thomas to St. John is a popular day trip for some cruisers since St. John is just a short ferry ride away. If you plan on taking the ferry back and forth, definitely make sure you have enough time!

Cruise ships anchor just outside Cruz Bay for St. John, which requires a short tender ride. Additionally, Cruz Bay is where the local ferry docks. The area around Cruz Bay features restaurants, bars, and shops. When we were in St. John there were a few other cruise ships visiting, which definitely caused the island to feel packed from the beaches to the town. This is definitely an island that should limit the number of cruise ships.

We ended up walking around Cruz Bay since the island was busy and we weren’t sure how the weather would turn out (ended up being a hot day!). First, we started out by exploring the wharf area and shops. Next, we moved over to Mongoose Junction, which is supposedly the a “world-famous premier shopping and dining destination” (according to the Mongoose Junction website).

After checking out the shops we stopped at St. John Brewers, which had a small tap room at Mongoose Junction. The tap room was being expanded in December and the new section was still under construction at that time. Once the new tap room is complete, I’m sure the new space will be well utilized!

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_35d2

Now one thing I was not sure on was the beer production scale on St. John. It seems much of the beer produced by St. John Brewers is actually brewed on the mainland of the United States. I’m sure there is a small production facility on St. John, but most of the bottles are all coming from the East Coast. This is becoming rather common in the brewing industry today with contract brewing across the United States.

Overall the tap room was small but had a local feel to it and the service was good. I was really disappointed though the tap room did not offer a beer tasting flight. I really like having a tasting flight when visiting a brewery because this allows you to try the product and experience all a brewery has to offer. Unfortunately, this prevented us from really trying the beer by St. John Brewers. I ended up trying their Winter Ale since the Wheat Beer I wanted was not available due to a keg problem. This is a different style for me to drink since I’m not typically a fan of Winter Ales (unfortunately the name and tasting profile of the beer now escape me). I do recall I enjoyed the beer and the spicy notes to it.

Overall St. John was a fun day, though an extremely hot day. If you have the chance to check-out St. John while on a cruise or a trip to St. Thomas, I highly recommend popping over to St. John for a day.