Monday, October 28, 2013

Visiting St. Thomas on an Eastern Caribbean Cruise

In 1493 Christopher Columbus visited the present day Virgin Islands while searching for a route to India.  He named the beautiful islands “The Virgins” in reference to the legendary beauty of St. Ursula and her 11,000 virgins.  The Danish West India Company thought the same, and settled St. Thomas in 1665. In 1917 the United States purchased the islands from the Dutch for $25 million in gold in an effort to improve military positioning during the critical times of World War I.  Today St. Thomas, (along with St. Croix, and St. John), make up the US Virgin Islands; a much loved  port of call on an Eastern Caribbean cruise!

Favorite Beaches:

Magens Bay is St. Thomas's most popular beach and one of the prettiest in the Caribbean! The water is usually very calm in this heart-shaped protected bay. Beach chairs and floats are available for rent and burgers, pizzas and other snacks can be found at the snack bar. Lifeguards are on duty every day. Taxi from Havensight Pier is approx. $10.00 pp each way, plus $3.00 to get on the beach. Plenty of taxis will be waiting at Magens to return you to the ship.

Sapphire Beach is a great beach for relaxing and for enjoying water sports. There is a water sports booth that offers wind surfing, kayaks and snorkel gear rental (the snorkeling is great!), as well as chair rentals. At the nearby marina you can rent jet skis or go parasailing. Food and drinks are available from a small open-air grill. Taxi from Havensight Pier is approx. $9.00 pp each way.

Lindberg Bay, also known as Emerald Beach is the closest beach to the new Crown Bay Pier. Several restaurants are available for having a nice lunch or grabbing a quick snack. A water sports booth offers kayaks, snorkeling, diving, peddle boats & windsurfers among other fun activities. Taxi from Crown Bay Pier is approx. $4.00 pp each way.

Favorite Attractions:

Coral World Ocean Park:  Experience the beauty and magic of life under and above the Caribbean Sea! Swim with sea lions, Sea Trek along the ocean floor, snuba, encounter turtles, sharks, and stingrays.  Gaze into the ocean from 15 feet under in the underwater observatory. Twenty-one tanks provide stunning views of hundreds of marine species in their unique habitats.  Coki Beach is right next-door and is great for both snorkeling and diving (there is a dive shop on sight). There is a beach side eatery, and rentals of jet skis, snorkel gear, beach chairs, and floats.

Mountain Top:  1,542 feet above sea level, the summit of St. Peter Mountain is the highest point on St. Thomas. The scenic overlook houses shops, a dining area and bar and of course a balcony for taking in the breathtaking view of Drake's passage, the British Virgin Islands and beautiful Magens Bay. Mountain Top holds the title for having the original and best banana daiquiris on the island.

Skyride to Paradise Point:  A seven minute aerial cable car takes you 700 feet above sea level. Stay at the top for as long as you want and enjoy unique shops, a neat Bird Show (10:30am & 1:30pm), and a fun bar and grill for a nice lunch and fabulous panoramic views of cruise ships, the Charlotte Amalie harbor and neighboring Caribbean islands.

Best Shopping:

The shopping is amazing on an Eastern Caribbean cruise! Hundreds of duty free shops line the streets and alleys of the capital, Charlotte Amalie. The best buys on St. Thomas include jewelry, alcohol, china, crystal, perfumes, watches and cameras. There is an area called Vendors Plaza where vendors set up small booths, tables and tents from which they sell an assortment of souvenirs. There you will find silver jewelry, t-shirts, tropical print wrap skirts, shirts and dresses, imitation bags and watches, trinkets and more. There is also hair braiding.

 It’s shopping galore right at the dock at Havensight! There are more than 50 shops, many of which are outposts of Charlotte Amalie's better-known boutiques, such as A.H. Riese, H. Stern and Royal Caribbean (the electronics store, not the cruise line).

Yacht Haven Grande Marina is a wonderful upscale shopping area.  From clothing, boutiques and unique gift shops, to electronics, art galleries and fine jewelry.  It’s walking distance from Havensight Pier; just follow the dock around the harbor."

Monday, October 21, 2013

Items To Shop For On A Caribbean Cruise

No vacation is ever complete without a shopping trip and if you’re taking a Caribbean cruise, you’re in for a special treat! Many of the Caribbean islands are known for their duty-free and even tax-free shopping. Luxury goods, designer fashions, jewelry, cigars, and liquor are often sold for much less than you would pay at home. There is also the opportunity to buy items native to or handcrafted in the Caribbean islands. Below is a summary of what to look for on the various islands.


Most of Antigua's shops are clustered on St. Mary's Street or High Street in St. John's. Visitors will find duty-free shopping for British woolens and linens, as well as locally made products like beautiful pottery, ethnic dolls, steel and wooden sculpture, photography and paintings. The Antigua Artist's Exhibition and the Craft Fair are the main exhibitions that happen in November, so if you are cruising then, you may want to check out. 


Broad Street in Bridgetown has the island's greatest concentration of duty-free shops including Harrison's, the island's largest department store. Local shops seem to specialize in all things English. Merchandise includes bone china from British and Irish manufacturers, watches, jewelry, and perfumes.  Located on the main road near Deep Water Harbour, just outside the shopping district, is the Pelican Craft Center. Housing over 20 shops and workshops, it’s one of the largest craft centers in the Caribbean.  Barbados rum has a distinctive flavor and Mount Gay Rum is a well-known name and a favorite souvenir of visitors.

Curacao :

On Curacao, an island with ties to the Netherlands, shoppers will find bargains on Delftware, clogs, and cheeses. One of the islands most famous exports is Curacao liqueur made from the laraha citrus fruit. If you get the chance, visit the Floating Market. Vendors from Venezuela bring their boats filled with fruits, vegetables, fish, and handicrafts to the island and then sell their merchandise directly from their boats.

 Dominican Republic:

The Dominican Republic is one of the few places in the Western Hemisphere where amber can be found. Much of it is made into beautiful jewelry. You’ll also find jewelry that showcases the locally found stone, larimar, a blue stone similar to turquoise.  Fuente cigars, handmade in Santiago, and those from the Ciabo Valley are very sought after. Locally made products include embroidery, fabric dolls, leather goods, mahogany and cedar handicrafts, Dominican rum, and coffee.

Grand Cayman Island:

This island is duty-free and tax-free and visitors can select from luxury goods like jewelry, china, porcelain, Swiss watches, and other items. Some of the George Town duty-free shops are located within walking distances of the island's cruise terminal. Locally produced items you might want to bring home include woven straw baskets, hammocks, jewelry made of conch shells, black coral, or caymanite, a marble-like stone from the cliffs of Cayman Brac. Don't forget to bring home a famous Tortuga Rum Cake from the Grand Cayman factory store/distillery!


Visitors to Jamaica can choose from a variety of native foodstuffs as take-home treats such as Jamaica’s Blue Mountain coffee and Tia Maria, the coffee-flavored liqueur made on the islands. The famous jerk seasoning (a blend of Scotch bonnet peppers, allspice, and other herbs) and Pickapeppa Hot Sauce are also very popular. Other common souvenirs include Jamaican rum, woodcarvings, woven baskets, and handmade sandals.

San Juan:

Truly traditional Puerto Rican handicrafts include papier-mâché masks called caretas, worn during Carnival and carvings of santos, which are religious figurines of patron saints carved out of wood, stone and gold. Puerto Rico is also famous for the quality of its handmade lace, which is called mundillo. The decorative lace is used for everything from home items like tablecloths to special creations such as customized wedding dresses.

  St. Maarten / St. Martin :

Because of the massive influx of cruise ships, shopping in Dutch St. Maarten is now about the finest in the Caribbean for deals in electronics, cameras, designer fashions, watches, and crystal, along with linens and jewelry. French St. Martin is especially good for fashion or perfumes imported from France.

  St. Thomas:

Charlotte Amalie, the capital of St. Thomas, is home to literally hundreds of duty-free shops, making it the top duty-free shopping destination in the Caribbean. Main Street, Back Street, and Waterfront Street and the alleys in between are homes to shops selling discounted jewelry, alcohol, cameras, clothing, and much more. Locally produced goods include shell jewelry, carved calabash bowls, straw brooms, woven baskets and handmade dolls."

Monday, October 14, 2013

Duty-Free Shopping On Your Caribbean Cruise

Beautiful white sand beaches are not the only reason for cruising to the Caribbean…. for many, duty-free shopping can be a pretty compelling reason! “Duty” refers to a tax levied on goods by a government. However, Caribbean shop owners can import goods and sell them to tourists who are leaving their country without import or export duty added to the price.  Duty-free shopping allows travelers to score extraordinary deals on cosmetics, fragrances, dinnerware, jewelry, watches, chocolates, candy, cigarettes, liquor and more…or does it?

The shopping talks offered onboard the cruise ship are often a good source of information on where to shop, including coupons and maps to the shopping districts. Quite frankly, the cruise line probably gets a kickback from the shops they recommend, but at least you can shop a bit more confidently in these establishments. Recommended merchants are vetted by the cruise lines and offer a guarantee should the purchase fail to live up to expectations.

It's important to know how much an item normally costs, because how else will you know if you’re getting a good deal?  Don’t take the store’s word that something is a bargain; do your homework before leaving home! That will allow you to quickly calculate just how much money you’re really saving. In addition, travelers should know that there are dollar limits on how much merchandise you can take into or out of a country.  Most cruise line-shopping consultants will be able to give you those numbers.

When shopping for designer handbags or jewelry, it's important to keep expectations in check. Often the price offered on luxury brands are tightly controlled by the designer, which means that labels like Chanel, David Yurman or Christian Dior have similar price points regardless of where they're sold. You will however, save U.S. sales tax if the item is purchased in the Caribbean.

Shopping for high-end watches and fine jewelry can be a bit trickier.  Quite often the warranties on those purchases aren't the same as similar items purchased in the U.S. For the best protection, shop only at an authorized dealer.  It may also be difficult to access the value of diamonds and gem stones, since the appraisals received may overstate the quality and value of the stone.

As far as electronics go, it's hard to get a price lower than at big-box stores like Best Buy. In addition, no matter where in the world you buy, prices on electronics such as cameras, GPS devices, and mobile phones, will be subject to fewer cost variations because they tend to be priced globally.  On the plus side, you may be able to pick up a gadget in the Caribbean that may not be readily available in the U.S.

So when it comes to duty-free shopping on your Caribbean cruise, the best advice I can give is “buyers beware!” There are deals to be had on the many islands you will visit but unless you’re a well-informed savvy shopper, you’re not going to recognize them!"

Monday, October 07, 2013

Miami’s Ultimate Ship, The Norwegian Getaway

Just like the Norwegian Breakaway has N.Y.City vibe, the soon to set sail Norwegian Getaway will comparably reflect its homeport city of Miami, Florida. The first thing that people will notice is the colorful, witty artwork painted across the front of the ship; a lovely mermaid that’s intended to look like she’s swimming in and out of the waves as the ship bobs up and down in the water.  It was designed by David Le Batard, the artist known as “LEBO”, who grew up and lives in Miami Beach and whose artwork adorns many of the city’s buildings. Guests onboard can find his paintings showcased in the atrium café and reception area, and the Art Gallery will feature a collection of his paintings for sale.

Once onboard, the theme continues in some of the bars and restaurants, designed to evoke the tropical feel of Miami and South Florida. The complimentary Tropicana Room (called the Manhattan Room on the Breakaway) is a supper club inspired by Miami Beach nightlife of the 1940s and ‘50s. Rich dark woods, luxurious purple and silver fabrics reflecting off of mirrored columns, along with nostalgic photos from Miami’s past, will make guests feel as if they are dining in a retro supper club. Featured menu items will represent the flavor of Miami with several Latin-inspired choices, including ceviche de camarón, churrasco con chimichurri (churrasco steak), and arroz con pollo (chicken with yellow rice).

The casual Flamingo Bar & Grill, an open-air eatery, will serve such traditional dishes such pierna asada (pulled pork), bistec con chimichurri (steak chimichurri), yuca frita (fried yucca), empanadas de espinaca (spinach empanadas), and pastelitos de guyaba (guava turnovers). Among the desserts are flan de leche (caramel custard), arroz con leche (rice pudding) and tres leches (three milks cake). A variety of regional drinks and Cuban coffee will also be available.

Up on the Waterfront, the Sugarcane Bar will serve mojitos and rum-based cocktails from an island-themed setting. The bronze bar features banana leaves made of bronze relief, which also circle the dual columns. The atmosphere is tropical and relaxed with leather and rattan furniture.

The Sunset Bar takes its inspiration from Ernest Hemingway’s Key West, with design elements that are eclectic, masculine and adventurous. A large Marlin mounted behind the bar serves as the space’s focal point, while leather furniture and animal prints round out the décor in this eclectic lounge."