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Island Hopping in the Caribbean

5th to 19th March 2017

Kingston, Jamaica to Bridgetown, Barbados aboard MS Serenissima

 

Sunday, 5th March 2017 - Kingston, Jamaica

After long flights from London via Atlanta to Kingston, Jamaica, we climbed onto a fleet of buses and transferred, with a police escort complete with blue flashing lights, to the berth where we boarded MS Serenissima. We were then welcomed aboard with some refreshments, before being shown to our cabins. Our next event was when we assembled in the Andrea Lounge for our Welcome Aboard Meeting and our Mandatory Safety Drill, during which we proceeded out on deck to receive our lifejackets and check the route to our respective lifeboats in an emergency. The safety drill over, we began to explore the ship and enjoy the facilities. After some unpacking of suitcases, dinner was served in the Venice Restaurant and we began to get to know our fellow guests and Expedition Staff. The ship then sailed out of Kingston for the start of our cruise, heading for Port Antonio, Jamaica.

 

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Monday, 6th March 2017 - At sea, Jamaica to Cuba

Unfortunately, the sea conditions had deteriorated during the night, making it impossible to enter Port Antonio harbour which is quite exposed. The decision was therefore made to make directly for Cuba. Heading north into the weather, most of us quite wisely stayed in our cabins for much of the day until we got our ‘sea legs’. Briefings for Zodiac operations and for the tours organised for the following day were given in the evening. Fortunately we were able to berth alongside the pier overnight to gain some respite from the waves.


Tuesday, 7th March 2017 - Santiago de Cuba, Cuba

Due to the arrival of the Adonia, another cruise ship, we had to leave our berth alongside the pier in Santiago before breakfast. This meant that we had to use the Zodiacs to transfer to the same pier where we had berthed overnight. Boarding buses, we set off on tours of various localities in the city, each group doing them in a different order to avoid congestion. At our visit to the cigar factory, we were first given a history of the establishment and how the tobacco was grown and harvested. The conducted tour then allowed us to watch the cigar-making process where we marvelled at the skill of the men and women who rolled every cigar by hand. Cigars of several different sizes and quality are made (Monte Cristo, Romeo & Julietta etc), with typical output being around 135 cigars per worker per day. Production of cigars forms a very important part of the Cuban economy. Moving on, we visited Revolution Square with a giant equestrian statue of General Antonio Maceo mounted beside a forest of huge symbolic machetes, and Moncada Barracks, the setting for Castro’s initial attack of the Revolution on 26th July 1953. We toured the historic central parts of the city and stopped at the Santa Ifigenia Cemetery where Fidel Castro and members of the Bacardi rum dynasty are interred, and watched the Changing of the Guard ceremony. Our final stop was at a splendid museum where we learned about the history of the various waves of immigrants as exemplified by their furniture and domestic architecture. The evening was rounded off with the Captain’s Welcome Cocktail Party and Dinner.


Wednesday, 8th March 2017 - At Sea

Today was a ‘Sea Day’ en route to The Dominican Republic and the opportunity for some lectures from our onboard team. First on parade was our military historian Major Gordon Corrigan with a lecture entitled “Ten weeks in 1898—The Spanish American War”, followed by geologist Prof James Floyd with a lecture on “Caribbean Geology”. After lunch we continued with botanist John Harwood with “Biology of Islands and Continents” and Gordon Corrigan again with “Cuba: from Batista to Obama”.


Thursday, 9th March 2017 - Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

We arrived before breakfast at Santo Domingo, the oldest city in the New World and capital of the Dominican Republic. First stop was the massive Columbus Lighthouse built to commemorate his discovery of the New World in 1492, with the arms of every South and Central American country. We also saw the armoured Popemobile used during the visit of Pope John Paul II in 1992 to commemorate the return of Columbus’ remains on the 500th anniversary of the discovery event. We also toured the Alcázar de Colon, the Royal Houses, the National Pantheon of heroes of the Republic and the magnificent Cathedral. The local tourist shops had many examples of jewellery made from the local amber and the attractive sea-blue Larimar stone which is unique to the island. After lunch on board, we departed for the magnificent 2 million-square metre Botanical Garden in Santo Domingo. Boarding a land train, we toured the garden, with our guide pointing out the more important trees and plants. We also stopped and walked around the beautiful Japanese Garden to admire the water features and oriental plantings, with our botanist, John, assisting from his extensive store of knowledge. The evening concluded after dinner with Neil hosting a Caribbean themed Quiz.



Friday, 10th March 2017 - La Romana, Dominican Republic

Today we had two options for tours. First to depart was our main snorkelling event where we embarked on a large catamaran for a chance to snorkel in a protected area over a reef close to the shore. After reboarding the boat, we had an exciting high-speed crossing to the island of Isla Saona where we walked across to a beautiful sandy beach. The swimming and snorkelling was quite envigorating in the warm water and various coral fragments could be seen amongst the white sand. The second option was a visit to Altos de Chavón, a fantastical modern 1970s recreation of a medieval Tuscan village set on cliffs above a bend in the Chavón river. After lunch, we squeezed out past the huge Mein Schiffe 5, berthed opposite us, and headed for our next destination, Tortola on the British Virgin Islands. En route, Sally Floyd hosted an Exercise to Music session in the Andrea Lounge and later our marine biologists Ted Creek and Phanor Montoya-Maya gave us an illustrated presentation on some of the features and problems of the coral reefs in the Caribbean.

 

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Saturday, 11th March 2017 - Road Town, Tortola, British Virgin Islands

This was another morning at sea as we transited from The Dominican Republic to the British Virgin Islands, skirting along the south coast of Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands and through the Sir Francis Drake Passage.. Gordon Corrigan gave a lecture on “King George’s Navy in the Caribbean” followed later by James Floyd with a lecture about “The Scots Darien Adventure in Darien”. Arriving in Road Town in late morning, we set off on our tour of North Shore and Pusser’s Landing. On our way to the first stop at the Mountain View Restaurant, we viewed some interesting murals painted on roadside walls to illustrate various aspects of the local history. Moving on, we toured the lively marine, shops and bars at Pusser’s Landing before arriving at a sandy beach for a welcome swim in the surf. After dinner, some of us walked into town for some refreshments at the famous Pusser’s Road Town Pub.



Sunday, 12th March 2017 - Virgin Gorda and Jost Van Dyke, BVI

Arriving at anchor before breakfast, the morning was spent on the small island of Virgin Gordo. We went ashore by Zodiac and split into two groups. The first group were driven by open taxi to The Baths where we descended a short trail down to the almost deserted beach. The area is characterised by huge tors, created by chemical weathering of the granite bedrock over millions of years, and giving rise to natural passages and caves where it has been eroded by the sea. The beach consisted of white coral sand and the shallow offshore reefs provided a great opportunity to see some reef fish and coral. The other group did an island tour, visiting Gorda Peak National Park and various heritage sites including Copper Mine Point where the ruins of an old copper mine and engine house could be seen. Both groups eventually met up at The Baths for a welcome drink before returning to the ship for lunch. Meanwhile, we sailed the short distance across to the small island of Jost Van Dyke where we went ashore at Great Harbour by Zodiac and were taken by bus across to the White Bay beach and the famous Soggy Dollar Bar. Everyone lazed on the sand, had a drink or an ice cream (Rum and Raisin was the favourite variety) and some ventured into the sea for another swim. Over dinner, the ship sailed for our next destination, Oranjestad, St Eustatius, in the Dutch West Indies. The evening was rounded off by Neil at the piano with his “World Famous Music Quiz”, with prizes to be won.


Monday, 13th March 2017 - Oranjestad, St Eustatius, Dutch West Indies

We again had two optional tours during the morning. The first was a hike, led by a local guide, up a trail to the edge of the crater of The Quill, the main volcanic peak on the island. The track led through woodland where we saw evidence of the work done by slaves to mitigate the soil erosion caused by sugar cane plantations. The second option was a walking tour of Oranjstad, looking at the old buildings in the ‘upper town’, built at the top of the cliffs in a more defensible position to deter pirates. The fort, built by the French, has been extensively conserved in recent years and now also houses the tourist office. After lunch, shuttle buses were provided for guests who wished to go swimming on the nearby beach or just wander around the old town. Later in the afternoon, Kevin gave a talk entitles “Seabirds, the great ocean wanderers ”. In the evening, we returned to the Museum for a cultural event with dancing by local children and an lively evening of music and dancing by a local group.



Tuesday, 14th March 2017 - Charlestown, Nevis and Basseterre, St Kitts

We arrived and anchored at Charlestown before breakfast before going ashore by Zodiac. Using a fleet of small 10-seater minibuses, the tour included a visit to Hamilton House, the birthplace of Alexander Hamilton, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, and which is now a museum. Moving on, we visited the Museum of Nevis History which has many documents and artifacts relating to Horatio Nelson and his time in the West Indies, also passing the Fig Tree Church which houses the original marriage certificate of Lord Horatio Nelson and Fanny Nisbet. A stop at an old sugar mill, now converted into the Montpellier Hotel, enabled us to see some of the physical remains of the formerly important sugar industry. However, the highlight of our morning was the Botanical Gardens, created by the Douglas family over 8 acres of hillside and including the most amazing variety of tropical trees and plants. This was rounded off with a refreshing drink made from the purple petals of the Butterfly Pea. Over lunchtime on board, we sailed the 10 nautical miles from Nevis over to the sister island of St Kitts where we embarked on buses to take us on a tour, starting with a drive around the historical part of Basseterre, founded in 1625 and the capital town of the island since 1727. We continued on to the Brimstone Hill Fortress, a UNESCO World Hertiage Site begun in 1690 and set high on a 800 foot high clifftop overlooking the sea. There we marvelled at the enormous scale of the stone fortifications, sometimes fittingly called ‘The Gibraltar of the Caribbean’. Many of the old rooms and barracks have been fitted out as exhibitions illustrating the life of the soldiers and people of the time. Our final stop was at Timothy Hill in the south, where we had views across the narrow isthmus separating the reefs and breakers of the Atlantic Ocean in Frigate Bay from the more tranquil waters on the Caribbean side of the island.

 

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Wednesday, 15th March 2017 - St John’s, Antigua and Barbuda

We berthed early in the morning and after breakfast set off on a Highlights of Antigua tour starting with a drive through the town and continuing on to Dow’s Hill Historical Centre where we had a multimedia presentation about the history of Antigua. From there we continued on to Shirley Heights where we had splendid views of the magnificent natural harbour of St John’s. We then drove down to the town of St John’s and visited the restored Nelson’s Dockyard, the only remaining working Georgian dockyard in the world. There, we heard from our guides how the ships of Nelson’s navy were careens and otherwise maintained in the West Indies Station. After lunch, a “Cricket Legends” tour was organised for those interested in the game. This included a talk from Keith Fredericks, who represented Antigua at regional level, and a visit to Stanford Cricket Ground, home of the West Indies Hall of fame. In late afternoon, Kevin gave a short dance session with the opportunity to learn The Merengue. fter dinner, we gathered for a Party on the forward deck, with music from the 1950s up to the present day, hosted by Neil as DJ.


Thursday, 16th March 2017 - Little Bay, Montserrat

One of the main aims of our visit to Montserrat was to see and appreciate the devastating effects of the eruption of the Soufriere Hills volcano in 1995. Disembarking by Zodiac, we boarded minivans and headed south towards the Exclusion Zone. Arriving at the former Montserrat Springs Hotel we looked out over the buried remains of Plymouth, the original capital of the island. The hotel itself was still standing but the structure was badly damaged and the main swimming pool was now filled with several metres of white volcanic ash. It was quite erie to see the white ashy landscape of the southern part of the island. Moving on, we visited the Montserrat Volcano Observatory where we viewed a moving video of the eruption and learned about the geology and destructive power of these highly explosive andesitic-type volcanoes. The scientific staff there still monitor the seismic activity of the Soufriere Hills volcano, which fortunately has been relatively quiescent in recent months. Continuing our tour, we visited the Montserrat National Trust Centre and shop where we were given a guided tour of the well laidout gardens and patronised their wellstocked shop. We returned to the Serenissima for lunch and later we took the opportunity of a shuttle Zodiac service to visit Little Town for some supervised snorkel swimming and have a drink in the local bars. Later in the afternoon, Sally Floyd gave an Exercise to Music class in the Andrea Lounge, followed by a lecture on “ The Real Pirates of the Caribbean” by Gordon Corrigan. The evening was rounded off with Captain Lukša Lale’s Farewell Cocktail Party and Dinner, given earlier than usual because we were safely at anchor on this evening and would be sailing on subsequent evenings.


Friday, 17th March 2017 - Cabrits (Portsmouth), Dominica

We berthed early in the morning at a wooden pier and set off after breakfast on one of two optional tours. The first group left for the Syndicate Natural Trail, a guided walk through a tropical rain forest trail. An amazing variety of trees and plants were seen, with commentary on their traditional medicinal uses. The second morning option was a Cabrits Historical Tour taking in Fort Shirley which could be seen from the ship. From the top, good views of Toucari were obtained northwards across Douglas Bay as well as southwards across Cabrits swamp to Prince Rupert Bay. After dinner, Neil gave an amusing talk called “It Shouldn’t Happen to a Cruise Director”, looking back on some of his interesting experiences during his 15 years on cruise ships.



Friday, 17th March 2017 - Soufrière, St Lucia

After landing by Zodiac, we boarded buses to visit various interesting sites. To avoid congestion, not everyone did them in the same order. First stop was the Diamond Botanical Gardens where we were able to see and photograph many interesting trees, flowers and fruits. Our next stop was at Sulphur Springs, the site of an active volcanic vent where steam, hydrogen sulphide and sulphur vapour were pouring out of the ground. The hydrogen sulphide gas gave rise to a strong smell of ‘rotten eggs’. These vents are known as fumaroles, solfataras or soufrières, depending on what gases are being released, and are typical of the waxing or waning phases of volcanism. Bubbles of gas came up through pools of hot mud and burst like a boiling cauldron. Yellow crystals of sulphur could be seen coating some of the rocks. The whole scene was reminiscent of ‘Dante’s Inferno’. At our final stop, we visited an old sugar, cocoa and coconut plantation and saw how sugar cane was crushed using a horse/donkey gin, heard how cocoa beans were harvested and prepared to turn them into chocolate. The rapid opening and de-husking of coconuts was also demonstrated, using a steel spike to split them open. We learned how the coconut is used to provide a huge variety of different food, cosmetic, medicinal and practical products. After our last excursions of the cruise, we had a leisurely afternoon on the beach or enjoyed a refreshing drink in a local bar whilst watching the Six Nations Rugby match (England v Ireland). In late afternoon, in near-perfect sea conditions, we enjoyed watching the Inaugural Serenissima Boat Race in rowed zodiacs, between teams of two from the Expedition Staff and Crew from the Deck and Engine Dept. (won by the latter, on this occasion) As we sailed for Barbados, and before our final packing, we assembled on the aft decks for a complimentary tot of Pusser’s Navy Rum as we watched the sunset. Later we assembled in the Andrea Lounge for the Cruise Slideshow.

 

  End of Voyage

For further inspiration, view slideshow of images taken during the voyage

 

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