The Hawaii of the Caribbean: St. Lucia - Thursday, March 27, 2008

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Having just been to Hawaii in September of 2007 to celebrate Ana's 40th, St. Lucia was the most unique island out of all the ones visited on this cruise and the one that reminded me of Hawaii.  Who needs to fly half way across the world when St. Lucia is right around the corner?  From the moment we stepped on the port in Castries and on the bus to take an island tour (no beaches this time), it never failed to impress.

For a more textbook description of the island, you can read below, but to me the highlight of the tour was eating lunch at Ladera overlooking the famous Pitons.  Lets first talk about Ladera.  "Ladera was once part of Rabot Estate, one of Soufrière's oldest and most famous cocoa plantations. In 1982 it was transformed into the unique resort it is today. Taking full advantage of its natural surroundings, Ladera offers a unique design in guest accommodations. The 9 villas and 23 suites all have an "open wall" - the west side of each unit is left open to expose the breathtaking view, and the orientation of the buildings maintains complete privacy. The villas and suites are constructed of tropical hardwoods, stone and tile, furnished with 19th century French furniture or replicas, wicker and accessories crafted by local artisans. All units are decorated with local artwork and feature magnificent views of the Pitons and Caribbean Sea."

After the lunch where we sat overlooking the valley and the Pitons, Ana and I went exploring.  We found an open villa and the maid let us go in to see for ourselves.  The description above says it all and in my own words there were no walls along the back and you slept outside, but not really.  Each villa had it's own pool and although you were outside, you had privacy and you had the view.  Absolutely a place to come back sans kids to celebrate a special occasion.  Check out for more information.  Prices range from $600 to $9,000 USD per night.

On the way back from Ladera, the bus (actually there was a bus and a small van), we stopped at a swimming hole with a nice waterfall. It was a nice way to finish off the day in the last port of call for the cruise. We had two full days at sea ahead of us and I was starting to get end-of-vacation blues, but the next two days would prove to be fun and relaxing.

According to Freestyle Daily, "St. Lucia is the sort of island that travelers to the Caribbean dream about - a small, lush tropical gem that is still relatively unknown. One of the Windward Islands of the Lesser Antilles, it is located midway down the Eastern Caribbean chain between Martinique and St. Vincent, but north of Barbados.  St. Lucia is only 27 miles long and 14 miles wide, with a shape that is said to resemble a mango or an avocado (depending on your taste).  The Atlantic Ocean kisses its eastern shore, while the beaches of the west coast owe their beauty to the calm Caribbean Sea.

In natural beauty, St. Lucia seems like an island plucked from the South Pacific and set down in the Caribbean (I told you so...see first paragraph above). Its dramatic twin coastal peaks, the Pitons, soar 2,000 feet up from the sea, sheltering magnificant rain forests where wild orchids, giant ferns, and birds of paraside flourish."

Caving in Bridgetown, Barbados - Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Wednesday, March 26, 2008
According to, "Barbados is a coral island, pushed out of sea by volcanic activity in a far away time. On the West Coast of Barbados, coral shore beaches of fine white sand stretch along a blue-green sea. Coral reefs fringe the Barbados shoreline to provide excellent snorkeling and Scuba Diving. Along the East Coast a lively surf is blown briskly by the strong and constant trade winds and the waves pound against a rocky shore. The constant breeze of the trade winds give Barbados a mild and pleasant tropical climate

When you visit Barbados, you will see it is mostly a flat coral island with excellent beaches, but there are rolling hills and many deep ridges and gullies, with an interesting distribution of flora and fauna. Within the Barbados coral core there is a vast array of caves and underground lakes which provide an excellent supply of drinking water that is amongst the purest in the world. Geologically Barbados is unique, being actually two land masses that merged together over the years."

After we woke up a little bit late and frazzled, we met up with the group to take a bus tour through the island to visit one of the top tourist attractions on the island:  Harrison's Cave. It is basically a crystallized limestone cavern that is said to be one of the wonders of the world. It contains flowing streams that helped to create beautiful stalactites and stalagmites in this living cave. You tour the cave on an electric tram (sort of like a limo-sized golf cart) holding about 20 people.  It is perfect for kids as there's just enough walking and the caves are not too hot.  You drive a little, stop, explore, and then get back on the cart.  The tour lasts anywhere between 45 minutes to 2 hours depending on what you want to see.  I never felt scared as it is very easy to do and experience.  It was perfect for the whole family.

Since we went in 2008, it appears that they have enhanced the tour to start at the top of the cliff overlooking the valley floor.  You take a brisk walk/hike down in the outdoors leading up to the tram ride. 

Ziplining in St. John's, Antigua - Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Hand's down this was one of the funest ports on the itinerary.  Sister island to Barbuda (but part of the same country), according to, the skyline of St. John's, the capital and largest city of Antigua and Barbuda, is dominated by the magnificently evocative white baroque towers of St. John's Cathedral. Built in 1845, the church is now in its third incarnation, as earthquakes in 1683 and in 1745 destroyed the previous structures. The towers are the first sight of Antigua for about half of the island's visitors each year, many of whom arrive by boat. With its recently completed cruise ship dock and several hotels, St. John's is a lively hub for shopping and dining.

As soon as we reviewed the options, the group elected to take a trip to the lush part of island north of English Harbour in the middle of the rainforest for some ZIPLINING!  We booked a trip with the Antigua Rainforest Canopy Tour and were ready for some fun.  We took a bus ride and upon arrival we were whisked away to an orientation on safety where you are forced to sign a waiver relinquishing any fault in your death.  Basically, you dangle about 250-350 feet in the air through various stations (I counted 9) while going about 5-10 miles an hour depending on how much you weigh.  Small kids do not weigh enough to get the right speed to get from one platform to the next so they end up just half way across in mid-air forcing someone to rescue them.  This eliminated some of the kids from going on the trip, but we had a big group eager and ready to go.

The feeling you get atop the rainforest and in most cases through the rainforest is cool.  It's not a natural thing you do on a daily basis so you have to get used to it.  After the first several stations where you get the hang of clipping yourself to the line (and not forgetting the safety clip as well), you get the hang of it.  At no time do you feel unsafe.  There are at least two employees per platform that do the unclipping and clipping for you.  They double and triple check everything each time. 

I highly recommend this especially in St. John's where there is not alot to see/do during the short stay there.  After the ziplining tour, we met up with the others near the port for a quick lunch at a roadside cafe and for some shopping.

Swimming with the Dolphins in Tortola, British Virgin Islands - Monday, March 24, 2008

Monday, March 24, 2008

After a long day at the beach the day before, we arrived in Tortola, British Virgin Islands at about 10a.  According to the Freestyle Daily, "approximately 60 miles east of Puerto Rico, this archipelago of some 40 islands is a majestic cluster of distinct beauty. It's serene harbors, rugged mountains, groves of bananas and fringed palm trees are delightful treasures that remain untouched by industrial development."

For our excursion, a group of us decided to take a brief tour around the city, but our main excursion was swimming with the dolphins at the Dolphin Discovery Center.  None of us have done it before and the kids were excited to get in there and ride/play with the dolphins.  Each of us took a turn to be hoisted in the air by two dolphins (one nose under each foot) to be glided almost above the water, flying.  Some of us were able to do it easier than others, but they took their time to ensure everyone had at least one good run.  We spent about an hour in the water with the dolphins while they did different tricks and spending some quality time with each. My daughter got a little scared, but she held tight and was able to stay in the water the whole time.  She was four at the time and it may have been a little too soon for her. I think she would enjoy it now much better and I recommend to wait until about 7-years-old.

As for the facilities, they were clean, well organized, and on time.  One complaint is that someone in our party bought the video, but the video was not able to be played on American DVD players or the DVD was faulty.  She was never able to get a good copy.  Other than that, the experience was unforgettable. 

Onboard Egg Hunt and Easter in the D.R. - Sunday, March 23, 2008

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Happy Easter!  All the kids were excited as they waited outside of a ship lounge to run amok hunting for eggs.  Set up by all the Mom's, this was a perfect setting to keep the tradition alive, but this time at sea.  After the egg hunt and tons of pictures, it was time to hit the beach in Samana, Dominican Republic.  Unlike the more popular D.R. destinations like Santo Domingo, Puerto Plata, or Casa Campo, Samana is more remote and less developed. 

Taken right from the Freestyle Daily, "Samana is a destination for nature lovers and adventurers.  Green mountains, long beaches, solitude, lively little towns in between turquoise waters.  Samana is also a romantic destination and several of its small hotels are perfect for honeymooners.  It is possible to just spend the day vegging out at the beach in front of the main hotel, but Samana is truly for explorers.  It also has a distinct European flavor."

We all opted to spend a relaxed-vegged-out day at Cayo Levantado where we laid out, went in the water, and did some exploring along the coast.  You had to take the tender from the ship to reach the shore, but it was a beautiful, sunny day.  We enjoyed it thoroughly and headed back to the ship around 5p.

Norweigan Pearl for Spring Break 2008 - Friday, March 21, 2008

Friday, March 21, 2008

As we prepared to set off for our Spring Break 2008 trip, we settled on a cruise with a large group of friends. About 30 in total, this was a group of people from our kid's school and we were going on a 9-day cruise through the Southern Caribbean right from Miami on NCL's Pearl.  No airplane ride and just a 30-minute ride to the Port of Miami. The itinerary was a little off the beaten path with some places I have never heard of before:

Day 1 (Fri, 21-Mar @ 5p) - Ship Departs Miami, Florida
Day 2 (Sat, 22-Mar) - At Sea
Day 3 (Sun, 23-Mar 10a-6p) - Samana, Dominican Republic (Easter Sunday)
Day 4 (Mon, 24-Mar 10a-630p) - Tortola, British Virgin Islands
Day 5 (Tues, 25-Mar 8a-5p) - St. John's, Antigua
Day 6 (Wed, 26-Mar 9a-6p) - Bridgetown, Barbados
Day 7 (Thurs, 27-Mar 8a-6p) - St. Lucia, Saint Lucia
Day 8 (Fri, 28-Mar) - At Sea
Day 9 (Sat, 29-Mar) - At Sea
Day 10 (Sun, 30-Mar @ 7a) - Shop Arrives in Miami, Florida

With that itinerary ahead of us, we are in for alot of cool excursions, shows on board, and meals galore.  It's going to be a fun ride.