If you've been following my blog series, you know that I had the amazing opportunity to sail on the Disney Fantasy over the 4th of July holiday week this year. For those of you who have never cruised, you may be wondering about getting off the ship in the islands. And that is exactly what this blog is about! :)
While modern day cruise ships are destinations in and of themselves, they also provide us with the fantastic opportunity to see beautiful locations without having to constantly pack and unpack. Think of a floating hotel - with LOTS of amenities! Honestly, you never need to get off the ship - there is just so much to do! But at the same time, these gorgeous destinations are just begging to be explored, and hey, you're already there, so why not?
The first stop on our Eastern Caribbean voyage was St. Maarten. St. Maarten is an interesting mix of Dutch and French, and there are lots of shore excusions to take advantage of. In this case, though, we opted to just get off the ship to shop and sightsee.
A word of caution; although you can get off at any port of call and "go it alone" so to speak, you must be very aware of the time. The ship will leave without you if you're late! If you are on an excursion organized by the Cruise Line, that's another story (they'll take care of you!). Anytime my hubby and I decide to go somewhere aside from the immediate port area, we do so only through an organized excursion. End disclaimer.
The lovely thing about most islands is that there is fabulous shopping right in the port area, so no need to stress about missing the boat - literally. St. Maarten's main shopping district was a beautiful 10-minute walk. There is also a ferry for $7/person each way. I am glad we chose to walk, because I actually found the Love Shack along the way!
Oh... and a goat...
So, how was the shopping? There were a lot of lovely places and boutiques. There was the usual touristy stuff, then a lot of American brands. THEN -- we found Olde Towne!
And there was an adorable boutique that sells gorgeous one-of-a-kind glass jewelry. So of course I had to buy a bracelet. :) Oh, this chocolate place pictured above was yummy too!
We also had some time to snap some pics of the beach and beautiful scenery:
There were lots of great excursions offered in St. Maarten - private beaches, scuba, snorkel, glass-bottom boat tours - but we just wanted to relax here. Because we didn't do an official excursion, we were back on the ship long before most people returned. This allowed us to enjoy the ship with a whole lot less people on it! And this is a great thing in and of itself - especially because the AquaDuck line was less that 10 minutes!
Another perk was that the Rainforest Room was empty. What is the Rainforest Room you ask? AMAZING. It's part of the Spa, and you can buy either a day pass or a length-of-cruise pass. It consists of a variety of Saunas, Steam Rooms, and special showers that help you unwind and relax. Then you go into a room with heated stone chaise lounges and stare at the ocean -probably fall asleep- and then stare at the ocean again as you are blissfully lulled by the ocean waves. There is a scent of eucalyptus in the air - oh and did I mention the hot tubs overlooking the ocean? Yeah, those are there too. I HIGHLY recommend purchasing the length-of-stay pass, which includes sugar scrubs for each day. I don't have pics of this, because people get weirded out when you're snapping photos in such a place - even if everyone IS in a bathing suit... :)
Back, now, to excursions. Our next stop was in St. Thomas, and as you may know, that is very close to St. John. I have been on great excusions to St. Thomas, but never to St. John, so, this time I went for the new experience! After breakfast, we embarked on an Eco-Hike Tour of Cruz Bay & Caneel Bay with a stop at the Beach.
We learned so much about the Island of St. John. There is no airport on the island, and so the only way to get there is by flying into St. Thomas and taking a ferry over. Incidentally, we took a ferry to St. John! It also is too small to port large ships like the one we sailed on. St. John really has a lot of "desert" type things about it - water is at a premium, and they were experiencing a drought when we were there. Fortunately, our guide had bottles of water for us as we hiked. It is a gorgeous island!
Mid-hike, we had a stop at Honeymoon Beach, which was just gorgeous! I mean... look at that water!
The water was warm, the sand was soft... but we still had a bit more of a hike before returning to the ship. So we set off and visited Caneel Bay, home to the Rockefeller estate! People can rent bungalows here for their vacation, and it's quite a beautiful location!
After we ferried back to St. Thomas, we did just a bit of shopping at the port before heading back for lunch.
It was a great day! But I have to say that my favorite stop was the last one... Castaway Cay!
First of all, when we woke up, we could see the entire island from Cabanas (where we grabbed a quick breakfast).
As you can see, Disney's private island in the Bahamas is absolutely breathtaking. The water, the sand - everything. Gorgeous. After our breakfast, we met up with our group on the dock and headed off on a nature hike/kayak adventure! We learned a lot about the history of the Bahamas and it's flora/fauna. It was extremely interesting! We got to see a mangrove nursery, too, and that was where, on a secluded beach, we boarded our kayaks.
Working a kayak is fun - but wow it is tiring! We got to splash around on the beach a little, and then it was time to head back to the main part of the island. On the way, we found this little thing - not sure what it is, but it has a Mickey on it!
And it was perfect timing - lunch was being served! We chose to eat in Serenity Bay, the adult-only portion of the island. It is the last stop on the tram, and it is beautiful!
If an adult-only beach isn't in the cards, there is plenty of fun to be had over in Pelican Point!
Pelican Point has 2 parts, and it is the hub of shopping and activity on the island.
There is a great snorkeling bay (and matching excursion!) here, and you can even rent bikes to tour the island at your leisure. Even without equipment, there is no doubt you will have a blast on Pelican Plunge!
Can you spot the Hidden Mickey in that picture? There are also kids' activity centers (on and off the ship), so there will never be a dull moment for the kiddos!
I have to say that Castaway Cay is one of the most fabulous islands I've been to. It has so much to offer (even stingray swims), and the set-up of the beaches flowed nicely. I truly can't wait to go back!
Have you been on an awesome excursion that you'd like to share? Comment below!