A pick ’n’ mix of shore excursions, high-end duty-free outlets and local markets await Caribbean cruisers and savvy shoppers after a bargain
The sheer diversity of the Caribbean islands and countries, with their different historic and cultural influences, makes it the perfect region to explore on a cruise.
One day you’ll be dipping a toe in the soft pink sands of an island in The Bahamas, the next you will be swimming with stingrays in the Cayman Islands or Antigua, or among turtles in St. Vincent & The Grenadines.
Those who are interested in exploring Martinique can sign up for canyoning, hiking, Atving (going off-road in an All Terrain Vehicle), or horseback riding; while a stop in Curaçao will be remembered for the island’s Dutch colonial architecture, busy capital and fascinating history museums.
And surely nothing can be as magical as a bioluminescent sunset kayak trip in San Juan, the capital of Puerto Rico, where tiny dinoflagellates make the waters glow magically.
Or for a little culture, cruisers stopping in Haiti’s capital Port-au-prince can visit The Musée du Panthéon National Haïtien, which honours the nation’s history and founding fathers.
Local rum and coastal views are available in equal measure on a Rhum Runner boat trip for Fred. Olsen passengers looking to explore Grenada. There’s also hiking through the Grand Etang Park to the island’s magnificent Seven Sisters Waterfalls.
Of course, you don’t have to make a splash to enjoy the huge selection of shore excursions on offer in the region. There are plenty of aerial thrills, too. Fly like a bird through the rainforest canopy on a zip-lining adventure in Jamaica, Antigua and Saint Lucia. While in Jamaica, enjoy a rafting trip on the Martha Brae River and climb the spectacular 600-foot Dunn’s River Falls; the water cascading through your toes as you make the ascent.
Shore excursions also provide a delicious taster of each Caribbean island’s food, history and culture. On Saint Lucia, guests can even make their own chocolate using beans grown on the estate of Boucan by Hotel Chocolat. The 20-minute process includes de-shelling the cocoa bean, conch grinding, mixing, and then finally pouring their own chocolate bar.
In St. Kitts, hop aboard the doubledecker Scenic Railway just outside Basseterre, and listen to the calypso tunes of acappella singers as it trundles past lush fields, picturesque plantation houses and disused mills. The tourist train was once used to transport sugar cane from plantations around the island to the factory.
Santiago de Cuba is Cuba’s second largest city, and the place to see key landmarks of the Cuban Revolution such as the Moncada Barracks and Plaza de la Revolución. Céspedes Park offers a slice of Cuban colonial culture.
In St. Maarten, take a fascinating tour around the homes of native Kunstenaars (indigenous artists) and learn about their personal stories and history from their living relatives.
Savvy shoppers can shop ’til they drop – or until their ship leaves – in the Caribbean’s cruise ports. Whether it’s high-end duty-free watches and jewellery you’re after, local crafts and souvenir trinkets to take home, or a couple of bottles of your favourite Caribbean rum, there’s usually an eclectic selection of shops just steps away from the ship’s gangway.
In Martinique’s Fort-de-france, visitors can work their way through the best of French fashion and perfumes, as well as Creole crafts and jewellery.
In Curaçao, downtown Willemstad (a UNESCO World Heritage site) is a port favourite for cruise-goers. The town’s winding streets are filled with inviting bars and dining spots and the colourful floating market, where fruit vendors from Venezuela dock to sell their range of wares. There are duty-free boutiques and department stores aplenty on Broad Street in Bridgetown, Barbados, a short walk from the cruise terminal. For high-end luxe, visit Limegrove shopping mall in Holetown, nearby.
In Philipsburg, St. Maarten, the Dutchside terminal boasts all of the big duty-free brands; on the French side, Saint-martin’s open-air water-front market in Marigot is the place to spend time browsing for cute trinkets and souvenirs. The Bahamas offers retail therapy opportunities galore. The Bay Street shopping hub in Nassau is close to Prince George Wharf, and Paradise Island’s retail outlets are just a 10-minute water taxi ride away.
Puerto Rico’s cruise terminal is right in the centre of San Juan’s cobblestoned old town. Here, stores sell everything from duty-free jewellery to artisan crafts. A short cab ride away in Avenida Ashford, Condado, the products are all Gucci and gold. The Port Zante cruise terminal in
a few blocks from downtown Basseterre, the capital, offers more than 60 duty-free shops, including plenty selling ‘well-priced’ jewellery – but be prepared to negotiate! If you need a refreshment stop, there are some lively bars in the terminal, too.
Shopping areas close to Heritage Quay and Redcliffe Quay in downtown St John’s, Antigua, offer local arts, crafts, jewellery and perfumes.
Ocho Rios is Jamaica’s main cruise port, and the Island Village shopping centre is handily just steps away from the main pier.
Passengers disembarking in George Town, Grand Cayman, will find shopping malls, boutiques, and duty-free shops along the waterfront Harbour Street – and the Cayman craft market is perfect for art and handmade souvenirs.
In Port-au-prince, Haiti’s capital, the large covered bazaar of the Iron Market has been welcoming visitors for well over 100 years. With stalls piled high with local produce and handicraft stalls, serious shoppers will be in seventh heaven. •
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