Month: March 2019

St. Maarten and St. Martin: A Tale of Two Cultures on One Island Paradise

IMG_1350

St. Maarten harbor

If you ever wanted to visit Europe without having to fly to the European continent – you’re in luck! Hop on a cruise ship or plane heading to St. Maarten/St. Martin and you can visit the only place in the world where the Netherlands borders France! St. Maarten/St. Martin is divided by two nationalities and cultures, approximately 60% French and 40% Dutch. Unlike many other Caribbean islands that were former colonies now turned independent, this Caribbean paradise is different. St. Maarten is a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and St. Martin is an overseas collectivity of the French Republic. These two jurisdictions share the same island paradise.

stmaarten2.jpg

Warm welcomes!

Greeted by sunny skies, bright jewel-toned sailboats, lush green mini-mountains, pristine beaches… and with the remnants of colonial muscle-flexing, like old forts, standing down… this is an inviting place. Plentiful pirates (in costume!) will have you dreaming of the days of buried treasure and seafaring adventure… without the danger! St. Maarten/St. Martin has been hit hard over the years by hurricanes, but the resourceful and resilient people here have worked hard to recover and restore their beautiful island after the damage. It was rewarding to be able to visit this place that locals take great pride in, and do business with them to help play a role, albeit small, in helping boost their economy after the hardships they have endured in recent years. The real treasure here isn’t buried, and wasn’t looted by the pirates of old – it’s St. Maarten/St. Martin’s people.

stmaarten4

Boat tour

A great way to see both sides, French and Dutch, is to take a boat tour. You can catch one in Phillipsburg, on the Dutch side, that will take you all the way around to the French section. After my boat tour, I took a bus ride to Marigot, on the French side, for a closer look at faraway France’s quaint colonial charms!

eglise saint-martin de tours

Eglise Saint Martin de Tours church, Marigot

While I’ve received some disagreeable reactions from locals in France making my best attempt to communicate in the local language, the people of Marigot were pleasantly surprised and impressed with my, admittedly broken, French! There is something infinitely satisfying about being able to converse with locals in their own tongue – it’s another element of immersion that fully envelops you in the travel experience. It is also rewarding when locals are pleasantly surprised and flattered by your efforts. Regrettably, I didn’t know any Dutch yet (note to self: bucket list!)

The cultural immersion doesn’t stop at sights and sounds, however. If you long for the tantalizing tastes and sweet scents of the continent, you can find them right here too. Stroll into a cafe in Marigot for cafe au lait and croissant to savor while you watch the tide roll in by sunset… it’s the best of both worlds!

stmaarten5

National pride on the French side

If you romanticize about Caribbean pirate culture, breathtaking beaches, and a laid-back life of nautical wonders, or the charms of Europe right in your back yard (if you live on the North American continent), then this may be just the place for you!

You can view my full tour of St. Maarten/St. Martin, here!:

 

Donation

I am extremely grateful for your generous donation to help keep the site running! This site and individual posts are not sponsored! A dollar may not be a lot, but every dollar counts!

$1.00

Advertisements

Underwater Fun in Nautical Nassau, Bahamas!

Lighthousewithtown

Abandoned lighthouse & Atlantis

Nassau, Bahamas is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Caribbean, and given all that there is to see and do here it’s not surprising! Besides the endless sunshine, bountiful beaches, and cool Caribbean vibe, the historical architecture and underwater adventures are well worth reveling in! The old and new captured by the rusty, whitewashed abandoned lighthouse facing the ultra-modern seashell pink towers of Atlantis Resort epitomize this island paradise: sentimentally historic while forward-thinking.

IMG_5655

Historic old town

A stroll through Nassau’s old town delights with vibrant pastel colors, colonial classical design, and a boisterously beachy vibe. Service is always delivered with a smile. It’s said that greater exposure to sunshine can lead to greatly improved mood and outlook – judging by the optimism ever-present among the locals here I believe it! The heavy hordes of tourists, while a common sight year-round in this tropical paradise, do not diminish the charm of this lively city!

Parliament

Parliament building

After a visit to the historic colonial buildings in town, the short trip to Fort Fincastle offers another perspective. This tenacious fort built in 1793, and still standing proud, reminds us that multiple colonial powers would have liked to have a piece of this paradise. Once you visit, you will wish you had one too! Cannons can’t keep you away as you invade these limestone walls, marking one of your own greatest victories in history – your amazing and unforgettable Nassau vacation!

IMG_5908

Fort Fincastle

Perhaps one of the greatest pleasures of all in Nassau, however, is not by land, but by sea! Aboard the SeaWorld Explorer submarine, you can dive the depths to be amazed by the dizzying variety of boldly colored fish and exotically shaped coral occupying the brilliant aqua depths below. While “wildlife” type tours can be extremely hit-or-miss (and, unfortunately, more often than not “miss”) there is no shortage of sea life to be seen from this submarine! Enter another world entirely as it is the people who inhabit the “fish tank” here, surrounded by a whirlwind of fascinating and fanciful fish!

Fish3

Views from the SeaWorld Explorer submarine

Of course, the most popular tourist attraction of all in Nassau may be Atlantis. While this may be a positive or negative for you depending on your perspective on travel, there’s no denying it is a massive and impressive structure. Resembling a castle, it invites you in to be “king or queen” for a day getting the VIP treatment in the casino, or being lavished in hedonism among its spectacular pools, waterfalls, and other luxurious surroundings. Wherever you go in Nassau, your memories are sure to be priceless!

Atlantis2.jpg

Atlantis

You can view my video tour of Nassau, Bahamas here!:

Donation

I am extremely grateful for your generous donation to help keep the site running! This site and individual posts are not sponsored! A dollar may not be a lot, but every dollar counts!

$1.00

 

Royal Caribbean Oasis of the Seas Cruise Ship Review!

IMG_8384

Oasis of the Seas

The Oasis of the Seas is among the most majestic on the Royal Caribbean fleet. It launched in 2008, and has an occupancy of 6,296 maximum. It holds 16 passenger decks. This city on the sea is an exciting treat indeed!

IMG_0639

The Atrium – sort of…!

The Oasis has a very different layout than many of the mega-ships I’ve traveled on before. A signature design for this class of Royal Caribbean ship is a cut-out middle, interior as well as exterior balcony cabins, and “neighborhoods”: a variety of unique types of “destination” locations around the ship. The “Atrium” does not resemble those of most of the ships I’ve experienced before, either. In this case, it’s a long hallway filled with shops, restaurants, and much more beyond passenger services desks.

IMG_1780

Lido Deck

The Lido Deck is expansive, and there are multiple pools and jacuzzis as well as an adults-specific deck under glass (admittedly it gets hot and starts to feel like a greenhouse in there!)

IMG_7939

Central Park

Central Park is one of the neighborhoods on the ship, replete with trees, plants, cobblestones, and relaxing benches. Many of the interior balconies have views over this delightfully green section of the ship.

IMG_6011

The Boardwalk

The Boardwalk looks and feels like a likeness to the Boardwalk at Atlantic City, complete with a Johnny Rockets diner, Zoltar fortune telling machine, arcade booths, boardwalk food, and an operational merry-go-round. There are also interior balconies facing the Boardwalk, as well as a massive water-based stage at the back of the ship.

IMG_4364

Ice Stage

Entertainment is abundant aboard the Oasis, and “go big or go home” never seemed a more fitting description than aboard this ship! Unique stages include the ice rink – a stage for ice shows by night and available for guests to ice skate on by day. Olympic skaters perform spectacular stunts, and I was thrilled and amazed every minute of it!

IMG_6486

Water Stage

The other unique “stage” on this ship is the water stage, on the Boardwalk, where Olympic divers perform death defying feats, complimented by synchronized swimming and other aquatic performances, all with a backdrop of cotton-candy clouds. The stage is outdoors under the sun, and the seating consists of splendidly colorful beach chairs.

IMG_6613

Balcony Cabin

I had a balcony cabin and found it to be plenty roomy, comfortable, and pleasingly decorated. I opted for the Oceanview, because I can’t get enough of the beauty of the open sea. But how great it was to have three balcony cabin view options at booking! Because there are so many balconies on this ship, I found them to be a better value than on some of the other ships I’ve sailed on.

IMG_3120

More of the Atrium

I greatly enjoyed my experience aboard the Oasis of the Seas. The ship is spectacular, well-maintained, beautifully designed, and offers a dizzying array of great entertainment, fun activities, and diverse areas to dine, party, and relax. I did not find it to be a particularly solo-traveler friendly ship – every time I entered the main dining room and asked for a table for one I was made to feel like Steve Martin in “The Lonely Guy” when a huge spotlight appears over his head and everyone stares at him like he’s psycho or something… and with no good promotion for the drink package on this cruise line I ended up drinking more than my fair share of ice water with lime. But all-in-all I had a fantastic time choosing neighborhoods to suit my mood, reveling in effervescent entertainment, and soaking in the sun!

FullShip

Larger than Life!

You can view a full video tour of the entire ship here!:

Donation

I am extremely grateful for your generous donation to help keep the site running! This site and individual posts are not sponsored! A dollar may not be a lot, but every dollar counts!

$1.00

Greyhound Bus Travel Tips!

Greyhoundbus2

Greyhound Bus

Time for more tips! This time we’re looking at bus travel in the U.S. Greyhound is the most common and well-known bus operator, and there are ways of making sure you have a better experience traveling with them. Greyhound Bus can be a very cost-effective method of ground travel. (Note: this post is NOT sponsored by Greyhound.) Without further adieu, here are the tips!:

Save money on your ticket!

Prices are lower if you can book 3 weeks in advance, when you can save a quarter or even more off the full price of the ticket. If you can’t, then it may help to at least book 2 weeks in advance, which is still better than last-minute. Whatever you do, don’t wait until you get to the station. Book your trip mid-week if possible. Prices are lower if you can hop on on hump day! Note that discounts are available if you are a member of Student Advantage or Veteran Advantage; go to “Discount Options” when making your reservation to choose this discount. Finally, do a search for promo codes – there’s a good chance you can score an additional discount that way. You will have a chance to enter the code before submitting payment. REMEMBER: There is a surcharge to “gift” a ticket to someone else. If at all possible, the traveler should be the one to pay for the ticket on their own credit or debit card, rather than someone else buying it for them!

Screen Shot 2019-02-17 at 1.23.45 PM

I used this 25% off code – and it worked

Luggage Tips

Note that you are allowed 2 pieces of luggage at no additional charge: one checked bag up to 50 pounds and one carry-on that will fit in the overhead compartment. (Avoid placing fragile items in the checked bag – disturbance of bags due to potholes and bumps is not unlikely!) Be careful about leaving carry-on luggage on the bus when you disembark on breaks, and keep your eye on your bags in the stations. Don’t create a temptation for thieves! Instructions for claiming luggage at different stations varies – listen to the driver for directions each time you disembark.

Ticket Tips

You will be able to print out a ticket or pick it up at will-call at the station, or have a digital ticket sent to your mobile device. Keep your ticket through the entire trip – you may need it to change buses and collect your luggage en route and at your destination.

Bus Comfort

Arrive early to line up to board early. Seating is first-come, first-served. Your bus may already have seated passengers on it, making this even more important if you want a good choice of seats. And if you need an outlet for your electronic devices, try to get a seat towards the front; not all seats have outlets. Free wi-fi is available on the bus. Travel pillows and blankets can be a welcome comfort on overnight trips – both on the bus and during long station transfers. Make sure you set an alarm on your cellphone to wake yourself up before your next stop – just in case!

Download the App

With the Greyhound app you can have easy access to your trip information, station location, and track your bus (and transfer bus) locations. And if your bus is running late and you may miss your transfer, you can find out when the next one is and make a bolt for the ticket window at the station to reserve a seat on that next bus before it fills up, potentially minimizing transfer time. Other customers may be clamoring to make the same alternate arrangements as you, in which case that next bus might fill up fast!

I hope these tips have been helpful for those traveling by ground on a budget! When it comes to traveling on a budget by land, road trips and buses are by far your best options.

Donation

I am extremely grateful for your generous donation to help keep the site running! This site and individual posts are not sponsored! A dollar may not be a lot, but every dollar counts!

$1.00