We had a great time on the MSC Seaside last year to the point that we went back on a cruise again this spring. This time we were cruising through Eastern Caribbean.
- San Juan, Puerto Rico
- Charlotte Amalie, U.S. Virgin Islands
- Philipsburg, St. Maarten
- Nassau, Bahamas
Before arriving to Puerto Rico, we spent the morning by the pool. It was a sea day combined with a port day. We sailed to San Juan, the capital of Puerto Rico before 4:30 PM. From my experience, always when you get off the ship, you will find bunch off locals selling a group or private tours. The prices are usually negotiable. Our guided tour began with The Capitol of Puerto Rico, which is home to the House of Representatives and the Senate. Since it is open only till 5:00 PM, we didn’t have a chance to enter the building. We passed the ancient fortresses and great stonewalls that have protected the city since they were built by the Spanish Conquistadors in the 16th century. Our next stop was the Castillo San Felipe del Morro, or simply El Morro. The majestic fortress features six different lines of defense. It was designed to guard the entrance to the San Juan Bay and defend the Spanish colonial port city of San Juan. The tour guide dropped us off at Plaza de Colón with the statue of Christopher Columbus. From there we continued wandering around the old city center. There is something for everyone: beautiful views, architecture, restaurants, museums, local stores, bars and nightclubs… We walked through the cobbled streets passing by the main square – Plaza de Armas with its “Four Seasons” fountain as well as San Juan City Hall, a seat of the Mayor of San Juan. We continued to San Juan gate and down to Paseo de la Princesa, one of the city’s grandest boulevards. I would also recommend stopping by the Cathedral of San Juan Bautista, which earliest parts date back to 1540.
The Old San Juan Historic District belongs to the UNESCO World Heritage Site. We ended the evening in a great restaurant Café Puerto Rico (suggested by locals) with yummy piña coladas.
U.S. Virgin Islands
A cruise to the U.S. Virgin Islands means entering the small constellation of St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John. If you travel with an MSC cruise ship, you will disembark at Charlotte Amalie, the capital. We started the day with a tour around the island and its landmarks. As always, we found a local tour guide. The city is known for its Danish colonial architecture and a rich pirate history. On a Government Hill you will find a Blackbeard’s Castle (Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard, was an English pirate), built in 1679. It was once used as an lookout to identify enemy ships entering the harbor. Unfortunately, due to a damage cause by the Hurricane Irma, this landmark is temporarily closed.
We also stopped by the Mountain Top (located on the highest point of St. Thomas, 1,500 feet above sea level), that offered spectacular panoramic views of both the U.S. and British Virgin Islands. It features an observation deck, casual shopping area and a bar which is home of the world-famous Banana Daiquiri.
For the rest of the day we just relaxed on the Magens Bay beach, which was named as one of the most beautiful bays in the world by National Geographic. The beach is fully equipped – we rented the chairs and umbrellas, you can find there casual open air restaurant and bar as well as restroom facilities, all well-maintained . The water is crystal clear and the bay makes the water very calm. We had lots of fun watching the sea birds playing in the water.
If I should pick one island that was the most fascinating, it is definitely St. Maarten. St. Maarten is a world record holder for being the smallest island in the world to host two nations. It has a “French” and “Dutch” side. We landed on the Dutch side of the island – at Philipsburg, where all cruise ships dock. The weather wasn’t great, but it was good enough to explore the island with a local driver. We stopped by the Maho Beach, which sits at the end of the runway of St. Maarten’s Airport. I bet, it must be quite a sight to see a giant jet fly over your head. We saw only two small private planes. But while waiting for the planes, we had a little guava berry liquor tasting. Wild guava berries are used as the main ingredient in locally-produced liqueur, rums, and hot sauces.
The next stop was Marigot, the capital on the French side. We visited the local market and bought a few souvenirs. If the weather would be nicer, we would enjoy the rest of the day on a beach. We finished our day by strolling through the Philipsburg downtown and waterfront boardwalk, where you can find lots of shops, bars and restaurants.
Since this was our second time visiting Nassau, Bahamas we didn’t have any plans. The local driver dropped us at the Cabbage beach, where we stayed the whole day. Bahamas have the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen. Before returning to our ship, we stopped by the local shops to stock up on some Caribbean rums.
Returning to Miami
It would be a shame not to spend a few day on Miami Beach. I love strolling down the Ocean Drive, eating good food and drinking the big signature Miami cocktails. The beaches are not as nice as in Caribbean, so we planned a few trips ahead.
Some fun trips…
If you’ve never been to the Everglades National Park, you might be under the impression there’s little to do in the swamp. Everglades is the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States. The National Park was established to preserve the biological diversity and resources of the rare ecosystems. Hands down, this was the best trip of our vacation. We took an air-boat tour, which was so much fun!
Driving down through the beautiful Florida Keys from Miami to Key West is a classic American road trip. Key West is the Southernmost city in the United States. As last year, we rented a car in Miami Beach. It is really a beautiful coastal drive. For more details and tips see my previous blog.
All beautiful vacations have to come to an end. But the memories will stay. That is the reason I write my blog 🙂