Taking an eastern Caribbean cruise — it looks like clear sailing

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As you know, this has been a bad year for the Caribbean, as Hurricanes Irma and Maria caused damage across the region. So it’s not surprising that many assumed this would not be the year to take a Caribbean cruise. But now that the storms have passed, the picture has changed. Many of the Caribbean ports are announcing it’s business as usual, and the cruise ships are plying Caribbean waters once again, filled with northern travellers – including The Travelling Boomer.

Today, I’ll be boarding the Norwegian Gem in New York for an 11-day eastern Caribbean cruise that travels the length of the region. And being the Travelling Boomer, I’ll be doing it at a good price. In fact, I had booked this same cruise before the hurricanes, but cancelled after they hit. Palm hut vertHowever, as the region began to recover, the cruise lines issued some can’t-refuse offers to lure passengers back. In the end, the price I paid was $500 less than my original booking.

But won’t I be visiting scenes of destruction? For the most part, the answer is no. While the hurricanes hit some parts of the Caribbean hard, only about 10 percent of the region was seriously affected. And most of the islands I’ll be visiting were left pretty much unscathed.

The first port of call will be Antigua, known for its brilliant beaches and historic sites. While Hurricane Irma devastated nearby Barbuda, Antigua itself largely escaped major damage. Most of its infrastructure is in good shape, and there was no flooding. It’s open for business, and the regular excursions should operate as usual.

Next, we’ll stop at Barbados, the rum island and the southernmost point on the cruise. Barbados was spared by Hurricane Irma, and while some homes were damaged by Hurricane Harvey, the island is in good shape overall. Conditions are good for a rum tour, or maybe a visit to the Flower Forest.

Heading back north, we stop at St. Lucia, another island that lies well south of Irma’s path and received no damage. I’ll be able to take a look at the conical Piton mountains, visit Marigot Bay and maybe even drive right into the Soufriere live volcano.

Next up is St. Kitts, which also escaped without major damage. The main port, Basseterre, is the oldest city in the eastern Caribbean, and a place with a British accent. I can visit an old sugar plantation, take a narrow-gauge railway around the island, or perhaps get in a bit of snorkelling.

cruise ship deckLast stop is a morning in St. Thomas, in the U.S. Virgin Islands. This is one of the islands that was hit hard by Hurricane Irma. But as with other islands, the government lost no time restoring the infrastructure that tours and cruises use. That reportedly includes the famous Magens Bay beach, and most of the shops and other attractions. We’ll see what it looks like when we get there.

So, it’ll be an interesting trip, not least because I’ll be sailing out of New York’s Manhattan cruise port instead of Florida or some European destination. That means three days on board before we reach our first port, but I like being on cruise ships – and who can’t use a couple of days to chill out and relax?

Finally, while these aren’t the circumstances I’d envisioned when I dreamed about taking an eastern Caribbean cruise, I’m glad to be doing it right now. It will be good to see how the islands are doing, with my own eyes. And this region needs tourists – the island economies are driven by tourist dollars, so every buck I spend will help them get back on their feet.

So it’s anchors away. I’ll post as often as I can while I’m cruising, though internet access is always a challenge on a cruise ship. So don’t be surprised if my posts are pretty irregular for the next 11 days. Stay tuned.

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Paul Marshman is a retired journalist who spent 30 years as a writer and editor on Canadian newspapers, while travelling to the ends of the earth. Now he continues to travel while passing on his travel experiences to you.

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