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Review: Golden 5/9-5/16 So. Carib. Explorer (Part 2)
Excursions: All excursions were booked through Princess.
St. Thomas:Best of St. Thomasâ€”On this excursion, you ride in an open-air jitney to various points on the island where you can see great views. Stops include an overlook for viewing ships in port and Charlotte Amalie, Mountaintop (a bar/shopping venue up in the mountainsâ€”great view of Magenâ€™s Bay and good souvenir shopping), and St. Peterâ€™s Great House (a multi-building complex with an observation deck for amazing views of St. Thomas and surrounding islands). At the end of the tour, you have the choice to be dropped off in town for shopping, or be dropped off at the ship (at Havensight Pier). This isnâ€™t an exciting excursion, but if what youâ€™re looking for is a chance to see the island and get some memorable pix, itâ€™s a good choice.
St. Kitts:4X4 Exploration of S.E. Peninsulaâ€”On this excursion, you ride in an open-air Army transport truck to the less-populated part of the island. There arenâ€™t any stops at major tourist attractions, but there are several stops to see and take pictures of the scenery. There is also a hike up a hill to see some ruins of a houseâ€”I missed the story on its history. You also get some time at a beach, but itâ€™s not what Iâ€™ve come to think of as a typical Caribbean beach. Letâ€™s just say the best thing about it is that we were the only ones thereâ€”at least the only humans. The worst part was that the prevailing scent there was eau de bovine (cow & goat poo). The topography of St. Kitts reminded me of Maui.
Grenada:Grenadaâ€™s Highlightsâ€”On this excursion, you ride in an air-conditioned van to several major tourist attractions on the island. This is a LONG excursion and the car ride between attractions can be lengthy; in fact, more time is spent driving than at attractions. We had a great guide named Tony and an amazing driver. The roads are insanely narrowâ€”what most of us in the States wouldnâ€™t even consider a 2-way road and of course mountainous. First stop is Fort Frederick, which offers a great view of the cruise port and the lovely town harbor. Next is Grand Etang Lake, or rather a place where you can SEE the lake. Last is Annandale Fallsâ€”not a spectacular falls if youâ€™ve seen some big ones, but really lovely and lush in sort of a sunken grotto. All three stops offer opportunities for buying spices or other local products (Grenada is one of the Spice Islands). I got a bag of whole nutmeg and a large bag of cinnamon bark for a buck each at the lake stop. In between the attractions, our guide stopped by the road and showed us what cocoa, nutmeg and cinnamon look like in their natural state. This really set this excursion apart from just a sight-seeing tour. Very educational!
Isla Margarita:A Day at the Dunesâ€”On this excursion, you ride about 40 minutes in an air-conditioned tourbus to the Dunes Resort. Two things surprised me about the roads on this island: 1) the roads were in great condition, better than most Caribbean islands; and 2) the roads were littered with trash for miles and milesâ€”not attractive. Once at the Dunes, we wereâ€¦um, rather underwhelmed. Itâ€™s a good-sized resort but my guess is that itâ€™s an older place. The pool looks like a bigger apartment-complex pool, not your usual fantasy-island-type resort pool. We headed to the beach first but were accosted by vendors so unmercifully that we left before our behinds ever hit the chaise lounges. Iâ€™ve been to the Caribbean numerous times and Iâ€™m used to beach vendors (hair braiding, jewelry, etc.) coming by to sell their wares, but these vendors took it to an insane level! Luckily for us, the vendors are apparently not allowed on the Dunes property because we didnâ€™t see a one at the pool, where we spent the rest of our time there. There is a lovely arbor area on one side of the pool where you can catch some shade, but plenty of open sun area as well. You get a buffet brunch as part of this excursion (just as you arrive). There is an open-air market right as you get off the ship that sells local handcrafts. Unfortunately, our bus pulled in right at 12:30, the time we were to be back on the ship, so there was no time for shopping. Note: Two of our friends took the La Restinga Lagoon tour and enjoyed it.
Aruba:Catamaran Snorkeling & Beachâ€”On this excursion, you walk from the pier to a nearby harbor where your catamaran awaits (ours was the Pelican Too, but the company owns several cats). This was my favorite excursion of the weekâ€”the only negative was that they piled two-tours-worth of people onto this cat and then we had to take the beach break people a good long way to their beach before we could even begin our excursion. I donâ€™t know if that is common or unusual, but it was very disappointing (why will become obvious shortly). We went to 2 snorkel sitesâ€”one is a reef and the other is a shipwreck. The reef is fine snorkelingâ€”not exceptional, but fine. Water wasnâ€™t super deep here. The ship (the Antilles, I think) is very close to the surface of the water (though it is sitting in very deep water), so you have to watch not to step on it or run into it, especially considering the wave action was quite rough that day. This is a marvelous snorkeling siteâ€”maybe the best Iâ€™ve ever visited. I said as I climbed back onto the cat that it was both the coolest and scariest thing Iâ€™ve ever done (you couldnâ€™t NOT think of the Titanic when you were looking at those dark nooks and crannies!). I would not recommend this site for first-time snorkellers but, beyond that, Iâ€™d recommend it to everyone! After the shipwreck, you sail to the Pelicanâ€™s Nest, an outdoor (but covered) restaurant over the water at a stunning beach. You get a free lunch of BBQ ribs/chicken and standard picnic sides plus a soda and a fruit cup for dessert. They told us to be back on the ship an hour from the time we arrived, but that included time to stand in line to eat and to stand in line to use the bathroom, so there wasnâ€™t much point in going to the beach. This, I believe, is where we would have had more time had we not had to take the other group to their beach before we got to our first snorkeling stop. Finally, you head out for a lovely sail back to port where they crank up the tunes and hand out the rum punch. The shoreline views (you sail parallel to the shore) out and back are just stunning and the water is so beautiful. If you have a port side cabin, be sure to spend some time on your balcony, admiring the view of the beautiful town and harbor.
Coming in Part 3 - Food (and Entertainment, if it's not too long)