Post Number: 2092
|Posted on Monday, November 13, 2006 - 12:15 pm: |
Leland, I have been to the places you mention and agree 100% with your assessments. (But you missed the best part of St. Martin -- the absolutely lowest liquor prices in the entire Caribbean. We got a liter of Bombay Sapphire gin for US$13 cash money, no credit cards please. Other prices were comparable. The shop appeared to be were run by Indian Indians BTW.)
The squalor in Jamaica, Bahamas and a few other islands is unfortunate, but conditions on other islands prove it doesn't have to be that way. We wandered through a grocery store in Nassau (Bahamas) and were horrified to see all the vegetables and fruits were shrink-wrapped and flown in from Florida, with the high prices you would expect. This, in a place where if you stuck something in the ground it would grow! I'm afraid that sheer laziness is to blame for most of the conditions there, and Tom was very annoyed to see that at our hotel (we weren't on a cruise) it was the local women who were working while the local men just hung around, as he scornfully put it, "playing slap-butt."
Bermuda is another story altogether as you noted. We chatted up local cab drivers and other worker bees and found them uniformly cheerful and hard-working even though descended originally from slaves no doubt. IF ONLY there were a place relatively nearby with the social climate of Bermuda but the winter warmth of the Caribbean (Bermuda IS coolish in winter)! As it is, we think it worth the long trip from the East Coast to Hawaii to get such a pleasant combination.
But if your heart is set on Bermuda, check out the various "cottage colonies" via the tourism office that puts out many excellent publications, available on request. You can even find a few "housekeeping" accommodations to fix some of your own meals. With the good local bus system you don't even need to be ON a beach or in a town to enjoy all the sights.
Post Number: 611
|Posted on Sunday, November 12, 2006 - 10:56 pm: |
I mentioned the poverty in the Caribbean. That problem did not arise on our second trip. In early October we took a Royal Carribean cruise out of Philadelphia to Bermuda. I booked it through vacationstogo.com, which has a separate tab on the home page for “military discounts”, which we used. The ship was about half the size of the Jewel of the Seas and older. No balcony cabins, which was all right as we just wanted it to sleep in, and the Windjammer buffet was the old style, with two long serving lines that slowed things down compared to the Jewel.
I was astounded by the condition of the islands after seeing the Caribbean and checked on the CIA factbook, which said:
“Bermuda enjoys the highest per capita income in the world, more than 50% higher than that of the US. Its economy is primarily based on providing financial services for international business and luxury facilities for tourists. A number of reinsurance companies relocated to the island following 11 September 2001 and again after Hurricane Katrina, contributing to the expansion of an already robust international business sector.”
Wow! OK, so I am visiting a place where I am the poor one.
A day-and-a-half at sea, a half day in St. George’s, two days in Hamilton, then a day-and-a-half back.
Bermuda can be thought of as U-shaped. St. George’s sits at the tip of one arm, the Royal Naval Dockyard at the tip of the other, and Hamilton in the middle. St. George’s is the oldest settlement and is pretty, quaint and very quiet. Hamilton is the main, modern city on the islands. This is where the international banking and insurance is headquartered. The Royal Naval Dockyard is an old Royal Navy facility closed in the 1960s (I think) and restored to a tourist trap.
We arrived in St. George’s around noon and it is pretty small. A half-day was fine. The ship docks right at the town dock, so it is easy to get to and from. The entrance to the harbor is particularly impressive, since there was only about 50 feet of clearance on each side of the ship as it passed between two islands to get in.
Hamilton was lovely. My English wife went into raptures of joy as the ship pulled in and I pointed out a building that said “Marks and Spencer” (a British department store) on the side. Needless to say, that became a mandatory stop. Hamilton has some nice pubs and is pretty cosmopolitan. The cruise ship pier is right in the city, so you walk off the ship and right into the center city. On the second day we took the small ferry out to the Naval Dockyard and then the bus back. A one-day Bermuda Transport ticket gets you unlimited bus and ferry rides and is well worth it. The bus service is very good and pretty regular. On the bus ride we got off at the stop for Horseshoe Bay and walked down to the beach. Absolutely beautiful.
My wife has fallen in love with Bermuda. She says she feels “right at home” there, with the strong British influence (it is still a British territory). It is also horrendously expensive. We had lunch at the Royal Dockyard and my burger cost $15 and her omlette cost $13. The Bermuda government also banned “all inclusive” vacation spots in the islands, to ensure that the tourists got out to spend their money. For that reason a cruise ship is a pretty good way to visit for a short period of time. No worry about an expensive hotel or overpriced food.
Shortly after getting back I started looking into other cruises to Bermuda that simply tied up and let you explore. I figured Charleston would be good, because you would spend less time at sea and more in Bermuda. I was right, but they all stayed the whole time (3-4 days) at St. George’s. If I had never been there I would have thought that to be OK, but now I don’t think I want it. St. George’s is lovely and quaint, but it’s an hour’s bus ride to Hamilton each way, and then from Hamilton you have to catch another bus to go to the famous south-shore beaches. Some other cruises dock at the Naval Dockyard, which is, in my opinion, a waste. They have a fairly interesting historical center/museum there, but nothing else other than craft shops. The saving grace is that you can catch the reliable Bermuda buses to the south shore beaches, or the ferry to Hamilton for some night life.
Anyway, we are trying to figure out a relatively cheap way to spend about a week in Bermuda. I’m not sure that is possible, but it is a lovely island. Recommendation: if you get a good deal on a cruise that docks for two or three days in Hamilton, take it. It is centrally located and the bus and ferry service will take you to the beaches, Royal Dockyard, etc.
Post Number: 610
|Posted on Sunday, November 12, 2006 - 10:55 pm: |
This year we took our first two cruises. Since we are novices, we have little basis of comparison. Therefore, these two entries are designed for fellow novices. The first covers the initial cruise, to the Caribbean.
In February we held a family get-together (myself, wife, mother and sister) on an 8-day cruise of the Caribbean on the Royal Caribbean Jewel of the Seas. It went Lauderdale to San Juan to St. Maarten to Antigua to St. Thomas to Freeport (Bahamas). If any of you were around Ft. Lauderdale at the time, you may have seen some crazed grey-haired guy wandering around the palm trees in the sun in 75-degree weather screaming “this is Leland’s idea of winter”. That would have been me. We flew down one day early and stayed at a motel overnight. There were a lot of others headed from that motel to the cruise terminal the next morning, so this is apparently common.
The Jewel was a very nice ship. The Windjammer Café (common to all Royal Caribbean ships) is a buffet that worked out very well for all meals. It is tough to do buffet well, but they did a pretty good job. And the fact that they set up the serving stations on about a half-dozen islands meant that there was rarely any line for any particular food. The more formal dinners were OK, but my wife and I both preferred the Windjammer for the choices and convenience of picking exactly when we wanted to eat. The ship had a fitness center, of course, so we both actually lost weight on the cruise.
At San Juan we did the historic city tour. Very interesting. Of course, Puerto Rico is a big island, so we missed 99.9% of it.
St. Maarten is smaller, so we actually got to see a fair bit of it in one day. Took a cab to the French capital of Marigot. We liked it. We found a small courtyard café to rest in, and a genuine French pharmacy, selling French soaps, etc. when we walked back into the town away from the tourist areas near the waterside. We would go back to Marigot. The Dutch-side capital, Phillipsburg, was completely different. We had the cab driver drop us off at the far end of the main drag and walked to the harbor. Eight-or-so blocks of nondescript 3-storey buildings selling jewelry to tourists. That was it. Then another long walk by a quasi-industrial area around to the far side of the harbor and back to the ship. Not impressed with Phillipsburg.
Antigua was what everyone expected. We took a tour over to Nelson’s Dockyard. Very nice, beautiful scenery. Guide pointed out Eric Clapton’s houses. The dockyard has been restored to its c.18-th century appearance and is quite interesting.
A lot of people said that St. Thomas is trashy and crime is rampant, but what we saw (basically Charlotte Amalie) was charming. Beautifully restored buildings and alleys being used as stores and restaurants. We liked it. When you got back further away from the waterfront the decay became more apparent, but it was still interesting. My sister headed off to St. John’s (? The park-like island) and loved it.
A day at sea and then to Freeport in the Bahamas. A waste of time. Freeport sits on an island with a small tourist area with 3-4 good size hotels and two shopping malls. The only thing to do is to go to one of the shopping malls, wander around looking at stalls selling “native crafts” and then sneak through one of the hotel lobbies onto the beach.
All-in-all an interesting cruise. The ship was very nice. We got a brief introduction to part of the Caribbean and got to decide which bits we liked (Puerto Rico, the French side of St. Martin, St. Thomas), which we were neutral about (Antigua) and which we did not care for (Dutch St. Maarten and Freeport). The only real negative was the grinding poverty that was visible on many of the islands, particularly St. Maarten, Antigua and St. Thomas). I just find it difficult to really enjoy myself when I see people living in shacks all around me. That was not a problem on our next cruise.