Our Visit to the Caribbean Included Four Very Different Islands

After walking the length and breadth of the Miami Cruise Terminal A, we boarded our ship. Our home for the next 20 days. One of the reasons we picked this particular repositioning cruise was the first week was in the Caribbean before we headed across the Atlantic. In this article, I’ll talk about the Caribbean ports of call.

Interestingly enough, all four of our Caribbean stops were new to us. Neither of us had been to any of these islands before. You’ll have to wait a few weeks for the cruise wrap-up article to hear about the cruise itself. Hope you like suspense.

San Juan, Puerto Rico

In San Juan, we opted for a food tour around Old San Juan. We figured it would be a two-fer, i.e. with food and history. I will say we learned some interesting things about Puerto Rico in general and San Juan in particular. First, most people on the island have Spanish as their first language and don’t speak any English. In the city, though, most people speak some English.

While we walked directly from the port around Old San Juan, we didn’t see any evidence of Hurricane Maria that hit here in 2017, but we were told that the rural areas haven’t recovered yet. Around the same time, Puerto Rico had a financial crisis. To ensure that finances stay sound, an oversight committee was put in place, but the people are concerned that there is no oversight on the oversight committee. I guess that is frequently the case.

Food Tour

This is the part you’ve all been waiting for the food. In addition to a lot of stops for food, we were able to see the Old Fort and the famous Hotel El Convento. Obviously, at some point, the building or one on this site was a convent. While we sat in the beautiful shaded courtyard of the hotel, we sampled a fried tamale made with yuca and a mojito, which is very popular here. Actually, anything and everything rum is really popular here.

We made another stop at the Cortes chocolate shop. The Cortes family has been making chocolate for 120 years. We tasted hot chocolate with a slice of cheese (a little odd) but since it is my habit to keep chocolate handy, I bought two small bars of their very dark chocolate.

Then we stopped at a bar and had instructions on the proper way to make a mojito. I believe we were quite successful. After we were liquored up, we were put to work making casaba mofongo, a traditional dish. With a mortar and pestle, we mashed cassava with lots of garlic and then we added chicharrones (fried pork skin), not so easy. After making a well in the middle, a traditional Puerto Rican sofrito was put in the well. After eating all of the mofongos, we got dessert, some kind of pastry, and cream. I just don’t remember what it was called. After all of that, we went to another place and got a traditional popsicle. Needless to say, we didn’t need any dinner that night.

Philipsburg, St. Maarten

The most exciting cruise excursion we booked was racing the 12-meter Stars and Stripes, a version of the America’s Cup 1987 winner. The tour company that does the racing has two boats, the Stars and Stripes, and another rebuilt 12-meter boat. The group was split between the two boats. We were on the ‘not’ Stars and Stripes and I think Mike was a little disappointed but they were outfitted authentically.

Everyone had a station with specific things to do. The hardest job was the grinding where you had to turn big cranks quickly each time the boat tacked. We spent quite a while racing around an authentic Americas Cup course. After the 4th time around, we saw the boat marking the race finish and our competition but we never did determine who won. I’ll just consider that we all won because it was a really fun unique experience.

After the race and passing seamlessly through the gift shop, we got to a pretty esplanade along the beach. We were looking longingly at the beach, which was beautiful when we were approached by a guy who offered us beach chairs and five beers for $20 so we sat ourselves down. Of course, we were hungry after our sailboat racing so we also each ordered a fish sandwich. The beers were good but the sandwich was exceptional and they take US dollars. We whiled away a few hours on the beach and in the water until it was time to walk back to the ship. We were very taken with Philipsburg and would definitely consider a return trip.

Fort-de-France, Martinique

For many years, I’ve wanted to visit Martinique, so I was excited about finally getting a chance. I had this vague recollection that people said you have to stay at a resort. From our viewpoint, I would definitely agree.

We got off the ship in the capital of Fort-de-France and our first impression was “This is not charming St. Martin”. Actually, it wasn’t charming at all and there was no hotel in sight. I’m sure there are resorts on other parts of the island but we saw nothing.

We were there on a Saturday afternoon and while there were many colorful old-school-type buildings, many shops were closed. We guessed that the island is poor and hasn’t recovered from recent hurricanes. Overall, the town was a little dreary so after walking around for 2 hours or so we returned to the ship.


We arrived in Barbados where we had booked a snorkeling boat excursion for the day. Happily, we were greeted on the pier by a steel drum band. It is hard to think of the Caribbean without a steel drum band but this was the first one we saw/heard. For me, steel drums mean happiness and tropical vacations. The part of the island we saw had a really good vibe and beautiful-looking beaches.

We were loaded onto very large catamarans with pretty densely placed benches. I think there were at least 50 people on our boat but once we got going it didn’t seem like too many people. We made two snorkeling stops. The first was specifically to see turtles that like to hang out in this location. The second snorkeling stop was just for the fish.

There were plenty of fish but it looked like a nursery with lots of babies pretty close to shore. I’m not sure any snorkeling experience will ever compare to snorkeling in the Maldives, but we liked being in the water anyway.

Leaving the Caribbean

At the very end of the tour, we walked back through a little mall to get back on the ship and I spotted one of my favorite things in a shop window, Tortuga Rum Cake. You’ll be happy to know that I only bought a small one and we had finished the whole thing by the time we set sail. It was so good. I should have bought more.

Of the four new stops in the Caribbean, we would definitely consider returning to St. Maarten and Barbados. Both islands had great vibes and exceptional beaches. You might say, why would we need to go to other Caribbean islands when we have a beachfront condo in Playa del Carmen? It is just someplace different and we like the variety, but it might be quite a while before we get back to these islands.

What Caribbean islands do want to go to?

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