We spent Thanksgiving 2017 on Royal Caribbean’s seven-night Southern Caribbean Cruise. The cruised departed from San Juan, Puerto Rico and visited St. Maarten/St. Martin, St. Kitts, Antigua, St. Lucia, and Barbados. I don’t think it takes much explaining as to why we were drawn to this cruise!
As the cruise was over Thanksgiving, we invited all of our family and a lot of friends to join us. We hoped that this could be a low-stress way to spend the holiday with loved ones. Ultimately, no one was able to join us, but we had a blast anyway!
While we are not big cruisers, we do enjoy cruise vacations. Mostly, we are drawn to the fact that we get to visit multiple places and only have to unpack one time! We also enjoy not having to drive or cook or think about much of anything for several days. Being able to pay in advance, over time, makes budgeting for a cruise vacation very easy.
We are somewhat loyal to Royal Caribbean. That’s not to say that we won’t consider other cruise lines but, just like most of our other travel, we enjoy accumulating the status that comes with loyalty. The style and “personality” of Royal Caribbean seems to fit us and our personality fairly well. We also enjoy using SkyMiles Cruises (or Hilton Honors Cruises) to book everything, thus earning miles or points on top of the rewards with Royal Caribbean.
Southern Caribbean Cruise Itinerary
As I said before, I think it is pretty easy to understand why we chose this particular itinerary! Who wouldn’t want to see six islands (including the departure port) and six countries in a week?
Of course, the other major factor when choosing a cruise itinerary is the dates… They have to coincide with the time you have off. Luckily, this one was Saturday-Saturday, which fit perfectly with our week-long Thanksgiving Break!
The Southern Caribbean cruise departure port was San Juan. Visiting San Juan was exciting for both of us. I had not been to Puerto Rico before, so was very eager to visit. Grant had visited as a teenager, on a cruise with his family, and was definitely happy to go back as an adult. We were very glad to have an extra day after disembarking, allowing us to explore San Juan before traveling back home.
Of course, having to fly to San Juan did add another expense for us. Living just outside of Atlanta, we generally drive to the port if we are doing a cruise out of anywhere in Florida. Obviously, that was not an option this time! And, unfortunately, the flight ended up being fairly expensive over the holiday week. Alas, that is why we accumulate miles!
St. Maarten/St. Martin
St. Maarten/St. Martin is the smallest island in the world divided by two ruling powers. St. Maarten is Dutch and St. Martin is French. The island is only about 37 square miles. The ship docked in Philipsburg, the Dutch capital.
We decided not to do an organized excursion here. Instead, we took a taxi to Maho Beach, where we were able to watch planes coming in for landing while soaking up some sun (or in my case trying to avoid sunburn) and enjoying the waves! Then, another taxi to Marigot, the French capital. Here, we visited Fort Louis, which provided excellent views in all directions. Finally, a third taxi got us back to the shopping district in Philipsburg, just about a 20-minute walk from the cruise port.
Getting a taxi was very easy everywhere we were. It cost us about $60 total for the three trips. We might have been able to rent a car for the same price, but then we would also have had to pay for gas and navigate the roads!
In St. Kitts, we did the Rainforest Hike, which included a stop at Romney Manor. We got a brief narration of island highlights as we drove to Romney Manor, which is a 17th century sugar estate with a lovely garden and bell tower. It is also home to Caribelle Batik. Batik is a very interesting method of hand-printing fabrics.
The hike itself was moderately strenuous… A little treacherous in a few spots, but overall not too bad. The canopy cover (combined with clouds) kept the temperatures relatively low, which was very nice!
After returning to the dock, we hit a couple of the stores to check duty-free prices and pick up a souvenir shot glass.
St. Kitts is fairly under-developed, which was a nice contrast from St. Maarten. One interesting note is that you can earn citizenship in St. Kitts with a $400,000 real estate investment.
The ship docked in St. John’s and we did an ATV Adventure, which we really enjoyed! We each had our own four-wheeler and got to drive over lots of different terrain. We enjoyed seeing the interior of the island and having time to chat with the guides about local happenings.
After returning from our excursion, we walked to the Anglican Church of St. John the Divine, a 17th century stone church, which we could see from the cruise ship. The church was under a massive renovation, but we were given a brief tour and history of the church, which was nice.
The main shopping district in St. John’s is right off the cruise ship, which is very convenient. There were also A LOT of taxi drivers and tour operators waiting right at the end of the pier. It was a bit annoying fighting them off, but also would be very easy to find something to do on your own if you hadn’t planned ahead or just didn’t want to do a ship-sponsored excursion.
St. Lucia was the greenest, most-lush island we visited on the Southern Caribbean cruise. We docked in Castries and did a coastal cruise to the Pitons. The Pitons are two volcanic mountains right on the coast. Along the way, we cruised past several fishing villages and resort areas and got to see a lot of what makes St. Lucia attractive. We also spent about 30-minutes swimming in one of the bays.
Unfortunately, we also got a bit of rain on this excursion. Overall, though, it wasn’t a big deal because most of the boat was covered. We enjoyed all the amazing views of not just The Pitons, but most of the west coast of the island.
When we arrived back at the cruise ship, it was still raining, so we did not get to explore the town. And since I did not get a shot glass, I guess we will have to go back!
Our stop in Barbados was one of our favorites! We started with a tour of the Mount Gay Rum Visitors Center. Mount Gay is world’s oldest-known commercial rum, dating back to 1703. Here we got a thorough explanation of the process of rum-making. More importantly, we got to taste several of their rums!
After a very quick lunch back on the ship, we headed out on our excursion, which was the 4×4 and Green Monkey Encounter. We rode in the back of open-air trucks and got a tour of most of the island. We stopped at the Barbados Wildlife Reserve, where we saw green monkeys, peacocks, tortoises, deer, iguanas, and several other critters.
The tour of the island was the real treat. We stopped in a couple of places to take pictures and admire the beauty of everything.
Adventure of the Seas
After this much activity, we were very happy for a cruising day! This was yet another reason why we picked this itinerary…have lots of fun, then rest!
The ship we were on, the Adventure of the Seas, had just returned from dry dock (we were the 2nd sailing), where it received some refurbishment and upgrades. Features included a rock wall, Flowrider (surfing) and miniature golf. Of course, just like all cruise ships, there were special activities by the pool, tournaments in the casino, and trivia, just to name a few of the MANY things to do.
We enjoyed spending most of our time relaxing, reading, and recovering!
As expected, the main dining room served up a wonderful Thanksgiving meal of turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, gravy, carrots, Brussels sprouts and cranberry sauce. They also had a full menu of other options available for anyone who did not want a “traditional” Thanksgiving meal.
While we would have loved to have been surrounded by family and friends, we thoroughly enjoyed our day together, just the two of us. We especially liked the fact that we didn’t have to cook or clean and instead got to spend the day exploring and seeing new places!
Overall, we really enjoyed the Southern Caribbean cruise. It had just the right amount of adventure and relaxation. We enjoyed getting a taste of each island, and would probably go back to visit most of them again, hopefully getting to spend a bit more time on the next visit.
Be sure to check our our other posts with more information about each port and the ship: