Five Caribbean islands in 12 nights. Ahhhhhhh! This Active Travel Pro is a lucky girl, to be sure. I share my experiences with you because I love to encourage you go off the beaten path a bit, and also stretch yourself physically to really immerse in the nature and culture of a place you are visiting. I totally get the need for renewal and re-charging while vacationing…I really do. Yet it is my strong belief that if you park yourself under a coconut tree and drink the day away, the experience will be MUCH different than if you get out there and move with the locals. And the memories will certainly be much more exciting!
This was a journey that served two purposes for me: I attended the first ever ETI (Expo de Turismo Internacional) travel trade conference in San Juan, Puerto Rico on May 13, 2015. I also took my 28th cruise with a friend on Royal Caribbean’s Adventure of the Seas. Both were incredibly enriching and exciting, and I’ll share some of the highlights with you. (Watch for future blogs for more details on each island.)
Puerto Rico: The All-Star Island
The last time I visited San Juan was in 2004 to sail a Southern Caribbean itinerary on Norwegian Sky. Much has changed! Staying this time at the Condado Hilton Plaza (a lovely hotel!), I was impressed by the improvements in the airport experience, the quick shuttle transfer, and the safety of walking around. There are quite a few restaurant choices in the area, and I noted all the local hard-bodies who were jogging that first evening. The public beach was lovely, and it’s a very short cab ride or bus into the historic Old San Juan. I must also mention that the Caribe Hilton across the harbor held a lovely closing reception for us, and has a wonderful beach location.
I made some good friends and contact for activities in Puerto Rico at the conference, but for me the highlight was my excursion with EXPLORA to the western Karsta region and a hike, rappel and body rafting down the Tanama River. They took us to breakfast at a local cafe about an hour West of San Juan. We bought a sandwich to bring along on the hike, parked at a lovely little casita to store our belongings, and off we went. The hike down was beautiful…the PR parrot has sanctuary here to boost its species numbers. Two ropes hung from trees spilled down the cliff 120 feet into the riverbed below. It was the highest rappel I had done thus far, and was great fun!
With life-vests and helmets for potential falling rocks and protection as we body-rafted, our group of nine participants and three guides whooped and hollered our way down the ropes and into the river. It was an interesting mix of people, and most were fluent in Spanish. All were there for the trade show, and we had a ball together! One man from NY had signed his girlfriend up…you should have seen her face before descending into the cave! Too cute. Her name was Nature, and I will never forget her lovely soul.
I will admit I was a little bit chilled as we ending the trip…the sun doesn’t get into the gorge and the water temperature was in the 70’s. PR is in a drought right now, so the river level was low enough that we bumped our butts on the rocks sometimes, and we had to get up to walk once in a while. The climb back up the steep gorge was challenging, but not technical, so if done slowly, most people could manage. Our guides shared some well-deserved champagne at the casita as we shared our thoughts and bonded at the top. And I am pretty sure the company EXPLORA was treating us to an extra special experience. I will trust they will treat you just as well. The guides were VERY professional, and all are trained in rescue as safety is their top priority.
RCCL Adventure of the Seas has been doing a 7 night cruise from San Juan year round for quite some time. This will change in the near future, but I will fill you in on that another time. St. Thomas was her first port of call, and since many of the Caribbean ships move to either Alaska, Europe or other locations in the summer months, we were the ONLY ship in port on this day. That translates to less traffic and more space on beaches and in the shops. (It’s a BIG shopping port…watches, gems, etc.)
It had rained heavily the day before, so the popular Magen’s Bay Beach was closed for swimming. We chose instead Sapphire Beach. The cab ride was about 15-20 minutes and cost $10 each in a van…and we met a family from Xenia Ohio, just up the road from me! The sun was scarce, but the beach beautiful, with facilities and a dive shop. We noticed the plans for an updated building that looked very cool. Soon!
DREAMS RESORT AND SPA was our next stop, and we had a lovely tour. They served a nice buffet lunch and turned us loose at the pool bar. Here are a few photos…this resort is all-inclusive and there aren’t many in the Virgin Islands. Looks like a good family option, although I must say there are LOTS of stairs from lobby and rooms to the beach, and the crescent stretch of sand is a little rocky and small.
Since I was a young girl I have wanted to swim with dolphins. My dream came true here! They swim in an enclosed oceanarium, and I felt they looked healthy and happy. I must admit i had some reservations about doing it, but learned these dolphins are raised in captivity, fed and treated well, and live to about age 50. That’s crazy! If wild, they would be shark and whale bait, so maybe it’s not such a bad thing. They eagerly pleased us with foot pushes (my whole torso was out of the water and I felt like an acrobat!) and dorsal fin swims. Dante and Angela worked together really well. Such a cool thing. The cab ride was only about 10 minutes or so, and there’s a little protected cove beach on site to play in before or after your excursion. (I booked it through Shoretrips.com)
Afterwards I went back to the ship for lunch, then out for a 15-20 minute walk to see the Ocean Terrace Inn. A small place, it had a view of the harbor where the ship was docked. I had a nice visit with the bar tender after a brief tour. The pool is lovely, but I am not quite sure that the US folks would enjoy, as the neighborhood was “iffy”. But it would be a restful spot, and the service was incredible.
My first visit to this wonderful island was awesome! We rented a jeep for the day from Royal Car Rental. It wasn’t the newest version, but it was serviceable, and VERY important to have, considering the adventure we took through the Arikok National Park. Another cloudy morning as we took off driving, so we detoured from the beach snorkel into the park for a joy ride we will never forget! Off-road trails are the ONLY way to get to Natural Pool. Wow…what a gorgeous setting. We swam to cool off, and bought a couple of local beers from a truck. This park also has a couple of fascinating caves to explore…you can see ancient cave paintings, too!
Later we heading to Baby Beach for a lovely snorkel…and met Fred Flintstone! Ha. The evening was spent doing a tour of the wonderful Bucuti Beach Resort. Keep this in mind, honeymooners. The service was incredible, the rooms amazing, and you won’t find nicer sugar-white sand anywhere! Thanks to the incredible staff for making us feel so welcomed and special.
This is a special port of call, and another first visit for me. Many locals speak four different languages, and the Dutch architecture is simply charming! Once again we were the only ship in port, and the swinging bridge is cool. Two ferries pick up the slack when the bridge is open for barges and sailboats to pass, so it’s easy to get into the area where all the colorful buildings are. The shopping is fun (I bought both a new hat and purse), and we were able to arrange a dive for my friend and snorkel for me by walking to the dive shop called Divers of the Caribbean. We really enjoyed the owner Mark, and he took us for a private excursion on Tugboat Beach. Great dive site with a huge wall, and the tugboat had been sunk long enough to be teeming with fish and had tons of coral growing on it. A fun post-dive visit to a local pirate bar, and we sampled for the first time a lovely spiced rum called Kilo Kai.
A Day at Sea
If you haven’t cruised on a big ship, you may not know how adventurous they can be! This itinerary had two days at sea built in, and we jammed as much activity in as we possibly could. I will share another blog about Adventure of the Seas, but here’s a not-so-short list of the fun you can have.
Putt-Putt golf, Climbing wall, ice-skating rink, inline skate, swim, gamble, run/walk/jog on the track, shuffleboard, table tennis, basketball, volleyball, water-volleyball, golf simulator, video arcade, hot tubbing, ice shows, shopping, fitness center with yoga, spinning, etc., movie theater inside AND under the stars, dance lessons, night-clubbing. NO shortage of ways to keep from gaining weight with all that food being served 24-7! I kept the status quo this trip since my friend and I were so active, and I certainly didn’t skimp on the food. Sometimes I hear this as a reason from clients that they don’t want to cruise.
Try it, you’ll like it! Cruising is a great way to travel, as you unpack once and see many different ports of call. On this voyage I became an Emerald Royal Crown and Anchor member, giving me extras perks while I cruise. I tend to be “Loyal the Royal”, as I love the innovative fun the big ships provide. I am already looking at another ship to sail. Perhaps Quantum or Anthem, their newest and crazy cool big ships. Want to join me sometime? They have bumper cars on board! Grin.