After our previous cruises in Asia, Central America and the western Caribbean, two years ago we decided to do the 12-day eastern Caribbean cruise from New York. Our son was wildly enthusiastic about the Anthem of the Seas, the Royal Caribbean’s showpiece at the time. And it happened to cruise by a few of our bucket-list destinations during the Easter holidays.
- Day 1: depart New Jersey (Cruise from New York)
- Day 2: at sea
- Day 3: at sea
- Day 4: Haiti
- Day 5: Puerto Rico
- Day 6: Sint Maarten
- Day 7: Martinique
- Day 8: Barbados
- Day 9: Saint Kitts and Nevis
- Day 10: at sea
- Day 11: at sea
- Day 12: at sea
- Day 13: New Jersey (New York)
Rule #1: be sure to arrive in New York (in this case) the day before departure of your cruise. That means you have a bit of a margin in case your flight is delayed, as the ship will not wait, not even for you!
A day in New York is no hardship, and we took the opportunity to visit some of the highlights and of course do some shopping.
The next morning, we enjoyed a short walk through the city, and then we left for Cape Liberty, the cruise port of New York (New Jersey), where our 12-day cruise of the eastern Caribbean would start.
It was still pretty cold in New York (end of March / start of April), and we were looking forward to our travel to warmer climes. The captain of the ship told us that we had to sail through a cold front for one more day, and then we’d arrive in the Caribbean, where the sun (nearly) always shines.
If you depart in a warmer season, be sure to put your swimming gear and your sunscreen in your hand luggage, as it will take some time for your luggage to arrive to your cabin.
The ship departs at 3 pm. People are waving from the shore and you pass the Statue of Liberty on the way out. For a little while you can enjoy the famous New York skyline, and then you’re on your way to the sun.
You’re at sea for the first two days. Perfect, as this gives you the opportunity to rest and explore the ship. There is a lot to discover on the Anthem of the Seas. Lots of restaurants and bars are waiting for you. And the large amount of activities on offer ensures you can fill every single day. Of course, you can just relax by the pool (well, from the 2nd day in our case because we left from the cold New York) and enjoy the first rays of sunshine.
Activitties in Haïti
After 2 days at sea, we set foot on land in Haiti. Unfortunately, you don’t get the chance to discover the real Haiti, as Royal Caribbean has bought a piece of the island and transformed it into a tourist paradise. A pity, but some interesting activities are organised to make up for this.
- You mainly enjoy the beach and the Caribbean Sea here. In the afternoon they serve a wonderful barbecue on the beach. If you don’t fancy sunning yourself with the masses on the beach, you can rent a cabana.
- Children have great fun here, as there is an enormous playground in the water just off the beach.
- Climb to the top and fly to the other side on a zipline. The Dragon’s Breath Flight Line is the world’s longest zipline over the water, and you’re over 150 meters above the ground at its highest point.
- There is also a bobsleigh track for the speed addicts. You slide down at speeds of nearly 50km an hour on the Dragon’s Tail Coaster.
- We booked a tour on a RIB. You fly over the waves at dizzying speeds. Not for wimps! People with back trouble better stay clear.
Activities in Puerto Rico
On day 5 of our 12 days cruising in the eastern Caribbean, the ship anchors in San Juan, the 500-year old capital of Puerto Rico. The second Spanish City of Central America was established here in 1521 and a lot of buildings were added to protect the city and the bay in the next 400 years. There was a lot of fighting by the Spanish, Dutch, French and British.
Things to do
- During a first visit to the island you of course have to visit the old town, Old San Juan. Cosy streets with colourful colonial houses immediately evoke the right atmosphere. You will also pass the house where in 1963 the now famous Pina Colada cocktail was first created.
- La Fortaleza was built in 1540 to resist attacks from outsiders. It consists of La Fortaleza, El Morro and San Cristobal. The ruins are declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. El Morro stands atop a rocky outcrop and was once defended by 400 cannons. El Morro defended the city against attacks from the sea, Castillo de San Cristobal ensured that attackers from the land-side had no chance. You also have a wonderful view of the bay from here.
- The Capitol Building lies just outside the old centre. This is the seat for, among others, the Senate and the High Court. The impressive building has a beautiful façade, but the inside is also certainly worth a visit. There are beautiful domes, murals and mosaics.
- The Walkway of Presidents is a collection of statues of American Presidents. Our children shake Barack Obama’s hand. I wonder if there’s now a Trump statue too.
Did you know: Puerto Ricans are US Citizens, but are not allowed to vote.
- You don’t want to visit the city? Take a trip to the El Yunque rainforest. Within 30 minutes from San Juan, you’re in this luscious green landscape with croaking frogs as the soundtrack. There are walkways to a few beautiful waterfalls and viewing towers. Of course, you can purchase the services of a guide. Be sure to wear proper hiking boots and don’t forget your bathing suit in case you want to take a dive into the lake at the bottom of the waterfall.
Activities in Sint-Maarten
My husband and I made our first trip together to this beautiful island. For us, it was a trip down memory lane. We looked forward to finding out if the island would live up to expectations. Or did we romanticise our trip in the last 25 years?
Sint Maarten is a true bounty island, with pearly white beaches. People with 120 different nationalities reside here, and they speak at least 80 languages. And on top of that, this small island is split into two parts, one part belonging to France, the other to the Netherlands.
We rented a car to drive around this island to chase our memories.
- You can obviously also just enjoy a day at the beach here. Snorkelling gear is available, and you can even go diving.
- Wander through the welcoming streets of Philipsburg. You can do a spot of tax-free shopping here. Be sure to call into the Guavaberry shop, and taste the local liqueur.
- Use the zipline at the Fly Zone Xtreme at Loterie Farm, or choose the Flying Dutchman. This is currently the steepest zipline in the world. From its starting point you enjoy a great view over the island. You can also see St. Barths, Anguilla and Saba.
- You can go sailing to, for instance, Prickly Pear Cay, a deserted island. Here, you can snorkel to your heart’s content and a barbecue is waiting for you on the beach.
- However, the real highlight is a visit to Maho Beach. This small area of beach is full of planespotters, who watch the low flying airliners pass right over their heads. When airliners depart, you get blown over by a strong air stream. Hurricane Irma severely damaged the island in 2017, and the beach nearly completely disappeared. It has mostly been restored since.
If you have more time, you can visit one of the other islands. You can take a plane or a boat.
- Saint Barthélemy is home to many famous people, you can take a trip around the island and find out where Mick Jagger, Paris Hilton and Rihanna spend their holidays.
- You will need to visit Saba by plane. This very small island has the shortest runway in the world at only 400 meters. It is bordered on one side by a mountain, and has a steep cliff on the other side. Your airplane will leave at full speed and then falls off the cliff, towards the sea. Halfway through this “fall” you feel the aircraft kick in and you start climbing again. Not suitable for people with a fear of flying. You can climb the 887-meter high volcano. During our visit 25 years ago, we did. 1064 steps! I will never forget it! I died a thousand deaths on the way up, but the promise of a spectacular view kept me going. And guess what! When we got there, the mountain top was shrouded in mist.
This is me 25 years ago on the foot of Mount Scenery. I had no idea what I started!
Activities in Martinique
Martinique is one of those islands that always spoke to my imagination. White beaches, waving palmtrees and tropical rainforest, with some added French je-ne-sais-quoi.
The ship moors in the capital of Fort-de-France. There are a number of excursions you can do from here.
- Of course, you can go to the beach again here, to relax, snorkel or dive.
- Climb the Mount Pelée volcano. You can drive up most of the way, and just walk up the last bit. You enjoy spectacular views from here during clear days.
- Visit the St. Louis Cathedral. Throughout history, this cathedral was destroyed by natural disaster six times (fire, earthquakes and hurricanes), and built up again in the same location. Earlier versions had a wooden structure, but the current cathedral has a steel structure that will hopefully survive longer.
- Another famous highlight is the Balata Gardens. Martinique is sometimes called the Garden Island, and here you can see why.
- You’ve not visited Martinique until you’ve visited a rum distillery. We visited the Distillerie Depaz at the foot of Mount Pelée. This rum distillery was founded in 1651, and is still run by the same family. Their estate was ruined in 1902 by a volcanic eruption. The only surviving member of the family returned in 1917 to restart the estate and its distillery. Today it is a flourishing business that produces high quality rum.
You will get a tour of the estate and the distillery. Afterwards you can buy nice souvenirs in their shop.
Activities in Barbados
And eight days into the cruise from NY, we arrive in Barbados. Another quintessentially tropical island where the rich and famous like to holiday. And it also has a few cool activities.
- A tour of the island, past the beautiful villas, is absolutely worth it. You will pass the birthplace of Rihanna, the most famous inhabitant of the island. A bit later you pass by her current house “One Sandy Lane”. A world in the difference.
- Barbados is said to be the birthplace of rum, so here, too, you can visit numerous rum distilleries. Mount Gay distillery was established in 1703, and is said to have produced the first rum.
- The Animal Flower Cave is a beautiful cave that opens up into the Atlantic Ocean. You can swim here on quiet days. The openings in the cave give you spectacular views.
- Harrison’s Cave lies in the centre of the island and was already discovered in the 18th century but it was not until 1974 that its complete underground system was mapped. This excursion is suitable even for those that have trouble walking, as a little train will bring you around the cave. You will see stalagmites, stalactites and beautiful lakes and waterfalls. The cave is about 2.3 km long and over 15m high in some places. There is a constant temperature of 27 degrees. These beautiful limestone caves are certainly worth a visit.
Activities in St. Kitts & Nevis
Saint Kitts was by far the best island we visited, in my opinion. This is probably because of the extremely enjoyable tour we did of the island. The island is so small that you can see all sights during a tour.
- Berkeley Memorial: this clock shaped moument and drinking fountain stands in 'the circus'. The monument was erected in 1883 in honour of Thomas Berkeley.
- Romney Manor Sugar Plantation: visit the sugar cane plantation that was started in 1625 by the great-great-grandfather of Thomas Jefferson, the 3rd president of the United States. The garden is beautiful and borders a bit of tropical rainforest.
- Fort Thomas Hotel once was one of the four forts defending Saint Kitts. When it became obsolete, Holiday Inn bought it and turned it into a hotel. After that, it was host to the annual music festival. Currently, it is home to the Defence Forces, meaning it has a military purpose once again.
- Timothy Hill: A panoramic tour will bring you to the top of Timothy Hill. Just past the highest point you have a phenomenal view of the Black Rocks, where the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean meet. A suitable soundtrack is played in the minivan, and everyone is having an excellent time. This was truly one of the magical moments.
After all the busy days where you had to get up early, you get to enjoy three days at sea before they bring you back to New York. It means you get home well-rested after this wonderful 12-day cruise of the eastern Caribbean.
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