Excursions

Excursion Focus: Goff's Caye, Belize City

In:
Category: 
10Apr2014

Royal Caribbean offers a number of cruises to Belize City and like us, you may be looking for something fun to do here during the day.  We spent weeks searching for the right excurison for our family and we eventually decided on Goff's Caye.

Description

Goff's Caye is a small private island off the shore of Belize City.  It's only accessible by boat and you must book a private excursion to reach the island.  Did I mention Goff's Caye is small?  It's only 1.2 acres of sand but if you're looking for somewhere to swim, enjoy the sun and snorkel, then this is the place for you.

We booked our excursion online for $40 per person (kids under 4 are free).  This gets you transportation to and from the island, snorkeling equipment and complimentary rum punch.

Getting to and from the island is probably the most difficult aspect of the entire itinerary. Royal Caribbean ships have to tender in Belize City, so you have to take the Royal Caribbean tender to Belize City and then take a different boat to Goff's Caye.

We were on the first tender to Belize City to avoid the notoriously long tender lines on the cruise ship and made our way to the check-in area in Belize City for the excursion.  We had put down a deposit online a few weeks earlier and paid off the remainder of the balance in port.  We were then given wristbands and told which dock to report to.

A couple of hours later it was time to board the speedboat to Goff's Caye.  There were about a dozen or so people on the boat and the ride takes about 20-30 minutes.  The boat goes much faster than the cruise ship tenders so the ride isn't so bad to get there.

Once you arrive at Goff's Caye, you pick a spot on the beach.  You can rent chairs (no umbrellas) for a nominal fee. The beach is clean and mostly rock-free.  Walking from the beach anywhere else does require shoes due to the various rocks in the interior of the island.

You can optionally purchase lunch on the island, which is BBQ food.  Prices were reasonable and there are beverages also available for purchase.  Rum punch and water are complimentary.

If you choose, snorkeling is provided in groups.  At a designated time, the boat takes a group off shore to snorkel and the snorkeling group moves around the island.  I did not partake in the snorkeling but I spoke with a number of people who did and they all reported the experience to be fun.  They all said they saw a good amount of sea creatures and generally enjoyed the experience.

Comments

Goff's Caye is a no-frills beach break excursion.  For someone looking for a basic beach day with just you, sand and the water, then this is perfect.

The remote location of Goff's Caye makes it quite serene.  There's little cover from the sun so be sure to bring plenty of sun lotion (and be sure to actually apply it, unlike this blogger).  

What we liked about Goff's Caye was we got a chance to sit down and relax on the beach with the occasional swim.  We had gone to Goff's Caye in February and it was a cloudy day so the water temperature was a bit cool.

The value for the excusion is quite high as the overall cost isn't bad at all, especially compared to other private island beach excursions.  Ultimately the low-cost is what convinced us to book Goff's Caye and I was happy with the choice.  It wasn't the best beach excursion I've ever taken but it was exactly what I expected.

If you want an inexpensive beach day in Belize City, it's hard to go wrong with Goff's Caye.

Excursion Focus: Parrot Tree Beach Resort in Roatan

In:
Category: 
21Feb2014

Roatan, Honduras is one of the prettiest islands in the Caribbean to visit and Royal Caribbean has more and more cruises stopping at this island paradise on their western Caribbean voyages.  If you're looking for a less crowded, yet beautiful beach to visit, it's hard to go wrong with Parrot Tree Beach Resort.

Description

Roatan's west end is well known for its beaches but because of its popularity, the beaches fill up fast and feeling like a sardine on a beach isn't my idea of fun. Enter, Parrot Tree, which is a beach resort on the east end of the island, about a 20 minute car ride from Royal Caribbean's dock without traffic.

Parrot Tree is a resort that offers day passes to cruise guests.  This isn't an all-inclusive resort, just provides access to their facilities.  Like all day-pass destinations, the advantage is smaller crowds and well-manicured grounds.

Arriving at Parrot Tree is like driving into an exotic and exlusive resort you might see in a James Bond movie set.  The road is paved with bricks that resemble something Cortes would have seen on his way to Tenochtitlan (Aztec capital city).  

Parrot Tree is on the ocean but they have built a lagoon that lets sea water in without all the waves.  The lagoon is surrounded by a white sandy beach with palapas and chairs laid out perfectly every dozen or so yards, giving each group their own private space.

Each palapa location offers 3 beach lounge chairs, a table and a beach bed.  There's also waiter service to bring you food or drink.  You can also walk to the nearby bar to get your own food and drink as well as use the free internet WiFi.

The food at Parrot Tree is a blend of traditional American food and a few local creations.  Burgers, fries and chicken nuggets are available along with the fresh fish of the day.  There's also plenty of drinks to choose from, including drinks that come in a hollowed out coconut.

The lagoon offers little to no waves, which is great for those who aren't strong swimmers or just someone who wants to relax in the water without fear of a large wave surprising them.

Because it's a private beach, there aren't any beach vendors offering you things to buy although we did see a woman offering massages, whom we assumed worked for the resort.

Comments

Given the price of admission ($15 per adult), it's really hard to beat what you get for the money.  Having your own private beach spot and far less crowded than other beaches is a wonderful treat.

The hidden gem here is the beach bed, which is perfect for laying down to enjoy the breeze, read a book or even take a nap.  For our 3 year old daughter, it made for the perfect nap spot and that isn't easy since she rarely naps at the beach because there's rarely anywhere comfortable for her to lay down.

In terms of the food and drink, we found the food to be quite good and good prices.  The chicken fingers were breaded in something quite good and the fried fish was particularly delicious.  You can charge food and drinks to a credit card, which means less of a need to carry as much cash on you.

The lagoon is quite nice to splash around in or just sit down and enjoy.  It's not very deep but great for wading and enjoying the view.  While the ocean is on the other side of the lagoon, there is no beach to speak of, just a lot of rocks so swimming there is likely not an option.

The web site for the resort claims your admission also includes access to their pool, although we were not aware of that and did not use it. 

The appeal of Parrot Tree is somewhere to go for a relaxed, low-key beach day.  For those that like to have a drink and enjoy a day in the sun, this is the place for you.  The grounds are beautiful and the value for the cost is really quite high. 

Address: Parrot Tree Plantation Roatan, Bay Islands Honduras, Central America

Cost: Adults: $15; Children 6-11: $5; Children 0-5: Free

Excursion Focus: Sand Castle on the Beach, St Croix

In:
21Jan2014

Beach days when in port on a Royal Caribbean cruise are always a great way to relax and today we're looking at the Sand Castle on the Beach in St. Croix.  Located just a few minutes by taxi ride, the Sand Castle on the Beach offers cruise passengers access to the beach and some other amenities.

Description

Sand Castle on the Beach is a private hotel that offers beach access for a small fee along with some other options a la carte.  Beach access alone is just $5 per person and you can opt for the beach package, which gets you 2 lounge chairs, 1 umbrella & 2 rum punches for $25.

Aside from beach access, your admission also gets you

  • Outdoor Shower
  • Restrooms
  • Restaurant & Bar on Premises
  • Fresh Water Sea Side Pool

The beach, which is the reason to come here, is very nice.  It's not the most beautiful beach you've ever seen, but the sand is soft both in and outside of the water.  There's also not a lot of big waves, so it's great for kids or anyone who doesn't like big waves.  There are no toys in the ocean, so it's all about lounging and swimming.

We visited in September and our ship was the only one in port so it wasn't a very busy day and getting there early in the morning there was literally no one else at the beach.  Business picked up as the morning turned to afternoon.

In addition to the pool, the fresh water pool is a nice touch and offers an alternative to the ocean along with chairs and shade in the area surrounding the pool.

Comments

The Sand Castle on the Beach is a great, no-frills private beach for anyone looking to relax and get some basic amenities. The beach is nice and the staff set up our beach chair and umbrella as part of the cost.

From a value standpoint, there's no question this is a great deal.  While I think you will need to rent chairs and umbrellas, you could just go for beach and pool access but since the price is so low, it makes sense to "spring" for the combo.

Our chief complaint was the restaurant/bar.  When we arrived it was closed and the bartender didn't show up until about noon to even start getting the bar set up.  Since we had rum punch vouchers with the package, it was frustrating we had to wait so long to redeem them.  Granted, we were there off season and that contributed to why things didn't open sooner.

Since the Sand Castle on the Beach is a hotel, you may also have an influx of hotel guests.  Since we were visiting in the off-season, there just a few there.

The staff at the hotel are all Americans and speak great English. We also had no problem getting a taxi to get back to the cruise ship.  In fact, there were a few cabs waiting around to take people back.

Overall, Sand Castle on the Beach is a good choice for an inexpensive beach day.  You wont find the amenities of some all-inclusive resorts or other beaches, but it's good for enjoying a beach day.  While the lack of drink service irked us, it wouldn't stop me from recommending Sand Castle on the Beach.

Address: 127 Smithfield, Frederiksted, St Croix, VI 00840

Cost: $5 pass; Use of umbrellas and chairs for additional cost.

Excursion Focus: Tyrone Griffith Barbados Tour

In:
08Nov2013

Exploring the beautiful island of Barbados is no easy task so on a recent cruise to the island on Royal Caribbean's Jewel of the Seas we wanted a tour to see the highlights of what the island offers. For this reason, we tried Tyrone Griffith tour.

Description

Tyrone Griffith is a man that runs a small bus tour of the island of Barbados.  He's one of those guys that has generated a small following on the internet thanks to a number of favorable reviews from recent cruisers.  Essentially, it's the 21st century equivalent of word-of-mouth advertising.

We were suggested the tour by someone in our Cruise Critic mix n mingle group (a collection of Cruise Critic members on the same cruise that all decided to meet up) and the premise of the island tour is a 3-4 tour of Barbados.  

The tour originally cost $35 per person but due to our group size (about a dozen people), the price was reduced to $25 per adult (kids were free!).  The tour includes opportunities to see or stop at 

  • Kensington Oval (cricket stadium)
  • Mount Gay Rum Distillery
  • Holetown (site of the first settlers)
  • Oldest church on the island
  • Cherry Tree Hill
  • Morgan Lewis Windmill
  • Bathsheba
  • St. John's Parish Church
  • Gun Hill Signal Church
  • Optional beach stop at Carlisle Bay

Like all group tours I've ever done, the tour offers roundtrip bus service to and from the cruise port.  The buses are enclosed, air conditioned vehicles and offer beer, water and rum punch at no additional cost.

Comments

Given what the tour offers and the price, it sounded like a great value.  Most tours we found to be much more expensive and renting a car or getting a private tour would have easily exceeded the $25 per person cost Tyrone Griffith's tour offered so we gave it a try.

We met our group and the tour right at 9am in the cruise terminal area.  Given this was a tour of people we had never met before, it's always a little awkward at first getting to know everyone but after an hour or so we were all joking.

After a small "paper work" issue (nothing worth reporting here), we all hopped into our van for the tour.  We took this tour in September and it was quite hot and humid.  The van was air conditioned but quite frankly, the air conditioning was weak and while it was better than no air conditioning, it was not exactly cold.  Speaking of the van, we were really packed in and crowded.  Technically the van had space for all of us but sitting in the last row, it felt very crowded and I would not describe it as comfortable.

Another issue was the beer, water and rum punch was not immediately available when the tour began.  We did eventually get what was promised, but it took an hour or so before that happened which bothered me.

As for the actual tour, we did see everything that was listed.  We did not stop at every place, with us driving by some places and stopping at others.  Frankly that's fine with me as stopping at every place would have taken far too long.  The tour driver was sure to announce things and describe them as we passed by and was able to answer the questions we had for him.

We stopped a number of places but the highlight of them was actually a golf course because hidden among the tees were a group of green monkeys that we were able to feed.  These are wild monkeys but it was something none of us had ever done before and it was a very cool experience.  Our driver brought bananas with him and give them to us to feed the monkeys, who were more than happy to take the food right out of our hands.  Amazing.

Barbados is a beautiful island and many of the other stops offered really terrific views and scenery.  By the end of the tour, it was almost like, "oh look, another beautiful view."  

At the conclusion of the tour, the driver gives everyone the option of being dropped off at a local beach or being brought back to the ship.  Beach goers will get a pre-arranged pickup time to be brought back to the ship as well.

Like all group bus tours, it's a different touring dynamic than when you tour somewhere on your own and that's something you have to be prepared for.  You move at the pace of the slowest person in your group and not all stops are going to interest everyone equally.  But if you go with a "go with the flow" mentality, it can be a good experience.

Overall, Tyrone Griffith tour was a fun experience that had some great views.  We managed to make friends with a few of the people on the ship, which was an added bonus.  It's really hard to go wrong with the price despite some of the issues the tour suffered from, including the beverages not being available immediately, the weak air conditioning and crowded bus.

Emailtiatonagi@yahoo.com

Phone number: (246) 233-3168

Excursion Focus: Bikini Beach in St. Martin

In:
08Oct2013

If you think the perfect Caribbean beach is somewhere with crystal clear water that has beautiful color and delicious mixed cocktails, then we have the spot for you.  Located on the French side of St. Martin as part of the larger Orient Beach region, Bikini Beach is one of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean and a great place to spend a day.

Description

Bikini Beach is part of Orient Beach on the French side of St. Martin (St. Maarten).  Orient Beach is known for being quite beautiful and the Bikini Beach operation offers services that are sure to make your time at the beach as relaxing as possible.

Getting to Bikini Beach from your cruise ship will require a taxi/car ride of about 20-30 minutes.  Like all beaches on St. Martin/St. Maarten, admission to the beach is free but use of the services does cost extra.  Four chairs and 2 umbrellas will run $20, which is a fair price in the Caribbean.  In addition, bar and restaurant service is available either by waiter to your beach chair or you can walk to the bar area and enjoy lunch there.

By far the reason to visit Bikin Beach is the beautiful beach.  The water color is the sort of thing you see in postcards and the water is amazingly clear.  Orient Beach is such a large beach that there's a number of other operations set up on the beach similar to Bikini Beach, but the size of the area helps keep crowds manageable.

For an additional cost, there are some water toys you may get access to.  During our visit, for $10 per person, you could use the trampoline, log and water obstacle.  The beach also partners with locals who can provide other services such as jet skiing, parasailing and massages for an additional cost as well.

Like many beaches in the Caribbean, locals will walk up and down the beach offering services and goods for sale.  A simple no is usually enough to send them on their way to the next guest.

Comments

There's no question that the ocean here is the main attraction and the color and vividness of the water really made this one of the most beautiful beaches I've ever been to.  If you want a beach with some of the best looking water you've ever seen, this is the beach for you.  The sand is also really soft and no rocks or shells to really speak of (at least none that you can feel while walking).  Once in the water, the bottom is sandy and free of rocks for the most part so no water shoes required.

While the beach is great, the icing on the cake is the service provided by the Bikini Beach staff.  There's wait staff that will deliver any food and drink you need to right to your beach chair.  Prices for the food and drink are about what you might pay at an average restaurant in the United States, so it isn't a tremendous value but when you're on vacation at a beautiful beach, it just feels nice to have someone bring you drinks without having to get up.  The wait staff was also attentive and we never had to play "where did the waiter go" game.

The bar also has more formal tables that are covered to sit at if you prefer to get away from the water while you have a snack or drink. The staff claims there is a WiFi signal that guests can access but you essentially have to walk into the parking lot to access it and I was never able to actually connect.  The staff also natively speaks French but their English is more than adequate.

We happened to visit Bikini Beach during the off season but Orient Beach in general can get full during the busier months of the year.  Make sure you get off your Royal Caribbean cruise early and go directly to the beach for the best availability.  

Because Bikini Beach is on the French side of St. Martin, topless sunbathing is possible so it's something to consider if that sort of thing bothers you.

Overall, Bikini Beach is a wonderful choice for anyone that wants beautiful water, a great beach and bar/restaurant service on top of it.  The level of service was terrific and it's hard to beat the view.

Address: Orient Bay, St Martin

Cost: Beach admission free; Use of chairs and umbrellas additional cost.

Royal Caribbean Blog Podcast Episode 6: Shore Excursions

In:
11Sep2013

Hey all! Thanks again for your fantastic reviews and comments about our new Royal Caribbean Blog Podcast!

Just wanted to drop a line to let you know that the sixth episode of our Royal Caribbean Blog Podcast is now posted and ready for downloading!

In this episode we look at booking shore excursions and the advantages and disadvantges of booking them through Royal Caribbean directly or on your own via a third party.  We also share some of our reader's favorite shore excursions and answer a few more listener emails!

Click here to go to the Podcast page for Episode 6. And don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast via RSS or on iTunes!

Excursion Focus: Magens Bay

In:
25Jun2013

St. Thomas is well known for its beautiful beaches and Magens Bay is at the top of the list when it comes to beautiful beaches, not only on the island but in the world.  When it comes to beautiful Caribbean beaches, it's hard to go wrong with Magens Bay.

Description

Magens Bay is a protected cove on the north side of St. Thomas. Magens Bay is known around the world for its white sand beach that is almost three quarters of a mile in length.

Beach goers and swimmers alike will enjoy the view and the beach's notoriety is well earned given how scenic the entire area is.  Calm waters are typical for the beach, thanks to the protection from larger waves further out in the bay.

Entrance to Magens Bay does have an admission fee ($4 for tourists) and it's quite far from where Royal Caribbean cruise ships dock.  There's plenty of taxi service to Magens Bay from the cruise ship area as well as Charlotte Amalie.  There are lifeguards on duty at the beach and there's a small snack shack on one end of the beach to buy meals, snacks and drinks from.  Visitors can also rent beach chairs, floats, windsurfers and small sailboats for an additional fee.

Because Magens Bay is so well known, it will get crowded and stay crowded most of the day.

Comments

Magens Bay is known for being a beautiful beach and it does not disappoint in that regard.  Truly, the biggest problem with Magens Bay isn't the beach but the fact the beach can get very crowded.  While the beach is very long, it is not very wide (distance from beginning of the beach to the water's edge) so finding a good spot will go quickly.

We have found the best times to go to Magens Bay are very early in the morning before the bulk of the cruise visitors arrive or in the afternoon when many cruise goers will start to leave to get back to their cruise ships. On our last trip to St. Thomas on Freedom of the Seas, our ship arrived later than the other ships and as a result the last two hours at Magens Bay ended up being quite empty.

The snack counter serves typical fried food that you would find at most beaches such as pizza, fries and burgers.  The food isn't anything special and it is expensive.  You're better off bringing food from Charlotte Amalie to the beach with you, or at least buying drinks.  

Those that have been to St. Thomas often will tell you the smaller crowds at other beaches outweigh the beauty of Magens Bay, but if you can deal with the crowds (or you're going on a not-so-busy day), I think the experience of Magens Bay is worth going to.  Especially if you've never been, Magens Bay is a must-see.  Like any island, on subsequent visits it may make sense to try other options but it's hard to go wrong with Magens Bay.  The sand is great and the water has the perfect color along with calm waves for everyone in the family to enjoy. 

AddressMagens Bay, Rte. 35 at end of the road on North side of St. Thomas

Cost: $4 per adult. Kids 12 and under are free.

Excursion Focus: Le Galion Beach

In:
07Mar2013

The island of St. Martin is known for its beautiful beaches but one of its lesser known beaches is a great choice if you're looking for a very calm ocean experience that is perfect for young children. On our recent cruise to the Eastern Caribbean, we tried Le Galion beach on the French side of St. Martin.

Description

Le Galion beach is a small cove that has a reef/sandbar that breaks any waves well off shore so it's basically a beach that is more like a pond. In addition, the depth of the water barely exceeds a foot or so for a good few yards.  All of this makes for perfect conditions for young children who want to be in the water but cannot swim or are not strong swimmers.

The beach is horseshoe shaped and is free to access, although if you want to use the chairs and/or umbrellas that are set up, it will cost a small fee (2 chairs and an umbrella cost $15).  One half of the beach has soft white sand while the other half has rocks and coral for those that want to do a little snorkeling.  The water tends to be very clear and it's just the perfect environment for kids to play in.  It's also serene enough for adults to enjoy for the quiet ambiance that a beach like this provides.

There's a small restaurant and bar on one end of the beach that has your basic beach bar food as well as a full array of drinks.  There is no waiter service but the beach is small enough that walking to it is not a problem.  Le Galion tends not to be as crowded as other beaches so that usually means no vendors walking up and down the beach trying to sell stuff to you.

Comments

Le Galion beach is perfect for families who have kids that want to play in the water but most beaches have too rough a surf for it to be safe.  Our two year old who cannot swim had no problem playing in the first few feet of water, that barely went up to her thighs when standing up.  

For adults, le Galion is great if you just want a no-frills, calm beach experience.  We saw plenty of adults without kids enjoying the beach on their own.  Given the relative lack of surf, this is not a beach that you will find lots to do in the water but there are 2 floating docks that anyone can swim to.  The first dock is relatively close to shore and a good option for kids but the other dock is further out and best suited for adults.  Otherwise, there are no other water toys available. 

What I love about le Galion is how simple and serene everything is.  For my daughter, it was heaven because of the no waves.  For the adults, we enjoyed sitting on our chairs and enjoying a few adult beverages while taking everything in.  The restaurant/bar is somewhat expensive, depending on what you order.  Drinks are average in price, although it's still cheaper to drink here than your cruise ship.

I do need to mention le Galion is a clothing optional beach, and on our visit we did see about 4 women bathing topless.  During our time, the sunbathers kept to one side of the beach while the families seemed to be on the other.  It was not a big deal for us and unless you're looking for it, the nudity is easy to miss.  

Location: e Galion Beach Rd., Quartier D'Orleans, St-Martin / St Maarten

Cost: Beach access is free. Chairs and umbrellas available for rent.

Sponsored tour bus crashes in St Maarten

In:
23Jul2012

A Royal Caribbean sponsored excursion in St Martin ended in an accident when thirty-six passengers were on a bus that crashed into a ditch last Thursday.  No major injuries although a few were taken to a local hospital.

The accident occurred when the bus was trying to avoid a taxi heading up a steep hill.  The bus hit the taxi, causing it to overturn.

The passengers were on an excursion from Freedom of the Seas to visit Loterie Farm for a treetop ropes courtse and zipline adventure.  The bus was taking them from Philipsburg, St Maarten to St. Martin.

Six passengers from the United States and the bus driver were injured according to Royal Caribbean. The injuries were minor, with the worst being a broken wrist.  

All the injured "were immediately transported to the local Louis Constant Fleming Hospital for treatment." Guest care team members and a ship doctor remained with the passengers during their stay at the hospital. All returned to the ship the same day. The guest care team and onboard medical team also continued to provide onboard treatment for passengers, including counseling, for those who asked for it. 

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