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bigburlyjohn

Cruise Port Opinions

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Cruising is relatively new to us, but since 2013 we have taken four cruises covering seven different ports, with three additional cruises scheduled through February 2017. Two of our upcoming cruises are to destinations new to us and the other is back to familiar ports. So far we have visited Falmouth, Jamaica, Basseterre, St. Kitts, Georgetown, Grand Cayman, Labadee, Haiti, Cozumel, Mexico, Phillipsburg, St. Martin, and Old San Juan, Puerto Rico.

 

Even with our limited cruise experience, we have begun to develop opinions about the ports of call. Our opinions aren’t based solely upon activities offered, but mainly how comfortable we are in our surroundings. If crime is a concern, real or perceived, or if vendors are particularly aggressive, that will lessen the desirability of a port.

 

Our cruise vacations are typically chosen by value and itinerary. With so much to do onboard, cruises aren’t necessarily eliminated because of undesirable ports, but they will affect our decision on whether to get off the ship or venture beyond the port facility.

 

Of the activities we enjoy, venturing off on our own for a day of discovery is one of our favorites.  We will sometimes book an excursion, mainly to get an overview of the island area. If comfortable with an area, when we return on a subsequent cruise we will venture off on our own.

 

With that lengthy preface out of the way, our two least favorites are Falmouth, Jamaica and Basseterre, St Kitts. We have done excursions at both and felt comfortable; the problem is with the aggressiveness of the independent tour operators and vendors.

 

Prior to going ashore in St, Kitts, we were warned by a cruise ship staff member to not wander outside of the tourist areas alone; reason unknown, but enough said to satisfy me. We stuck to a brief visit of the tourist shops and our scheduled excursion.

 

During our first visit to Falmouth we had a scheduled excursion that we enjoyed, but otherwise stayed within the secure port area.

 

Against my better judgment, on a return visit a year and a half later, we tried to wander out into Falmouth. Due to the aggressiveness of the vendors toward my seventy-two year old mother we spent less than fifteen minutes outside the port area before returning to the ship.

 

Labadee, Haiti is a wonderful beach destination that we enjoy immensely, except for the pushy vendors. The port is part of Haiti, but relatively secure and seems very safe. We have done the Dragon Tail Coaster as part of a cruise package; otherwise we simply take pleasure in the beaches.

 

Georgetown, Grand Cayman is a beautiful port with gorgeous clear blue waters. Another great beach destination; other water activities and excursions are available as well. My two knocks on this port are the food prices and the necessity of a tender boat from the ship to the dock. Unfortunately, our latest stop was cancelled due to rough waters and the inability to safely transfer passengers to the tender vessel.

 

Cozumel, a favorite Western Caribbean port, also offers clear blue waters, plenty of marine activities and other excursions. Shopping is plentiful and virtually hassle free, as compared to Haiti and Labadee

 

Phillipsburg, St. Martin was one of the first ports we visited when we began cruising and a favorite of ours. Upon arrival we boarded our previously booked bus excursion to the French side if the island. It was an enjoyable trip to Marigot with some scenery on the way and shopping while there. On the return to Phillipsburg, we asked to be dropped off at the end of one of the main shopping district streets. After spending sometime checking out the local shops, we crossed to the beach side of the downtown district and enjoyed a long walk back to the ship. The beach seemed really nice with some services; I would have no problem spending the day there.

 

Old San Juan, Puerto Rico is another favorite, and though different form St Martin, it’s probably a toss up between the two as our favorite thus far. Our activity was limited, but we did take the bus ride up to Castillo San Cristóbal before beginning our walk back down the hill to the ship. There is a lot to see with plenty of shops and restaurants to enjoy along with the rich history. Unless things have changed, it’s probably wise to allow extra time to renter the port area through security.

 

One other port of worthwhile mention is Key West. Even though we have not cruised there, we have visited multiple times. We love Key West and hope for an opportunity to return. Beaches are available, but I wouldn’t consider Key West a beach destination. Check out the shops on Duvall Street, hang out at Mallory Square or go to the Southern Most Point but don’t miss one of my favorite spots, the Key West Garden Club. The admission is free and it’s a National Historic site.

 

We have an Alaska cruise planned soon, but we are mainly interested in Caribbean cruising.  In the ten months we have another Western Caribbean itinerary scheduled as well as a Southern Caribbean trip planned that will visit the ports of Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao.

 

I’m sure we will find other favorite ports, and probably some not so favorite as we continue our cruise adventures.

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John, you have a very perceptive way of evaluating your ports of call, I will grant you that !  I can't disagree with you about any of your conclusions.

 

I found, as I cruised more (in the Caribbean) that soon one Caribbean island became pretty much is the same as the next.  Obviously, some have a certain charm that you may really enjoy but truly...they quickly become synonymous with one another and to be honest, I cannot really distinguish one from another except in some extreme cases (for the life of me I can never remember the difference between Antigua and St. Lucia.  I always get those 2 mixed up !).  A beach is a beach.  Shopping is shopping and a conch fritter tastes pretty much the same no matter where you get it.

 

My least 2 favorite ports are also Falmouth and St. Kitts.  Of the western Caribbean ports, I am not particularly fond of Roatan or Belize although my problem with Belize is Belize City. I absolutely LOVE the REST of Belize (at least, what I have seen of it...which isn't all that much, to be fair).

 

The southern Caribbean island do appeal to me more than the more popular eastern and western Caribbean itineraries.  I love Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao - particularly Curacao.  I find all 3 of those islands to be very quaint and charming.  I think you will enjoy these stops.

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I cannot really distinguish one from another except in some extreme cases (for the life of me I can never remember the difference between Antigua and St. Lucia.  I always get those 2 mixed up !). 

 

Really?!?! (smacks my head).  They're about as different as Louisiana is from Nebraska. :)

 

I guess I'm too interested in the islands culture and history to get them confused.  

 

I've not been to Falmouth, only Ocho Rios, and I didn't care for it much either.  We took a catamaran to Dunn's River Falls which was great, but spent the rest of the time in the walled compound area where tourists shop.  There was some sort of loud demonstration or strike outside of that area's gates, which made it very uncomfortable.  

 

We had that same experience on our first visit to Martinique.  On our second visit, we left the ship at about 9:30am.  An Aussie couple passed us, walking back to the ship, saying "ain't nothing here, mate".  He was right. We were back onboard by 10:30am after wandering around the ghetto-like area that the new port is being developed in.

 

But other than that, I think I've found something interesting an enjoyable in every port.  I kind of like St. Kitts since we stopped there when it was first developing as a cruise port, and it's kind of neat seeing the Port Zante grow each time we visit.  Next time we visit in November I think we're going to take a catamaran to Nevis just to see what it's like.

 

Oh, yeah, I forgot about the aggressive taxi/tour operators in Antigua when you leave the port area.  But then I realized that this might be their one shot at making some money that day for their family, which may be why they are so aggressive.  If I put myself in their shoes, I would likely act the same way.

 

I've wandered around into some seedy areas in some ports, but I've only felt uncomfortable once, and that was in (of all places) San Juan Puerto Rico, an American territory.  Stay away from the area half way between El Morro and San Cristobal near the cemetery - I think it's called La Perla. 

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My very first cruise back in the late 1990s was to the Caribbean. I took my 13 year old grandson with me. One of the ports was Montego Bay, Jamaica. I had been warned by cruise ship personnel to stay within the shopping district, don't wander down any side roads or only take the ship's shore excursions and the reasons given were drugs, robbery, pickpockets and prostitution. When we got off the ship and through the horrible looking port building and were walking towards the shopping area, there was a lady with a fruit basket on her head. I snapped a photo, the next thing I knew the lady and her male companion were in my face saying I owed them $10 for the picture. I told both to get away or I would call the police, whose presence was nonexistent. They harassed both my grandson and me for over 30 minutes until I finally saw a policeman and he made them go away. I decided to head for the ship so nothing else would happen. On the way back to the ship a very young girl, maybe 13 or 14, approached my grandson and me and said that if he wanted a companion for the rest of the time in port she was available for a small fee. That did it, I decided I would never go to Montego Bay again. That is my least favorite port, followed by any port in Jamaica.

 

I love Key West, probably my favorite. Just love the vibe of the city, everything there is to do, and the people who live there. I have found aggressive taxi and tour operators in almost every port. In Nassau, while taking the taxi van to Atlantis, the driver made it known that he accepted tips for his services and was expecting everyone to tip him since the taxi ride was only $5.00. Several people refused to tip him, but I felt like an earlier poster, this was the way he made his living and probably tips were most of his pay, so what did it hurt to give $2 or $3 for his services.

 

Candie

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I found, as I cruised more (in the Caribbean) that soon one Caribbean island became pretty much is the same as the next.  Obviously, some have a certain charm that you may really enjoy but truly...they quickly become synonymous with one another and to be honest, I cannot really distinguish one from another except in some extreme cases...

 

I have to say, I'm in almost complete agreement with you. I do like seeing the islands with the varied terrain (mountains). I'm not necessarily interested in the historical aspects of the islands and the beaches, shopping and water excursions seem to be very similar from island to island.

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I love the history of the islands.  I like to visit the forts.  San Juan is my favorite, but as mentioned, stay out of La Perla. 

 

Last year while on the Adventure of the Seas, we went to all islands I'd been to before... except the last day.  We stopped at St. Croix.  I wasn't looking forward to that port because of preconceived notions of it not being very good.  Turns out, it was great.  There is a cool fort right off the end of the pier.  Then we snorkeled and picked up a ton of sea glass that is now displayed in a cool jar on our back porch.  We loved St. Croix.

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It's broken glass that has been worn down and rounded off by the sea.  Some of it is very old.  Most of it is not.  In the fort in St. Croix there is a small museum devoted to it.  The woman there, I don't remember her name, has the history of it in St. Croix.  There is a multi colored pottery that is very old from there.  We found one piece of it.  The greens and browns, although pretty, are likely beer bottles and not old.  However, the blues, reds, and yellows are old.  Regardless, there is lots there, and we have a beautiful jar full of it, and it's a conversation piece when friends visit.

 

We want to go back to get more.

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Thanks RCVoyager now you have me wanting to collect it. My daughter is an artsy craftsy person and she would love it, but whenever I see a beautiful bottle, any shape, any size, I buy it if it is cheap and save it for that purpose.

 

Candie

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I don't think the beach in St. Croix is really that unique with the amount of sea glass that is there.  But, I don't really know where to find it on other beaches.  I'm on the Adventure to St. Martin and the ABCs in June.  Anyone know where to find sea glass on those islands?

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One word, Bonaire.

 

My wife and I went last October. After our snorkeling excursion we walked thru an open air market and back into some shopping areas. We weren't hassled at all by the vendors, the area wasn't a "cruise dock" offering local flavor and interactions and we felt safer than anywhere else I think we've been in the Caribbean. 

 

We've been to quite a few other places but Bonaire was the nicest once we got away from the ship and it's not even close. 

 

Have they gotten rid of the machine gun toting "guards" at the docks in Jamaica yet? 

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