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Southern Caribbean on Norwegian Dawn Part 1: Barbados & Martinique

After spending the night in San Juan, it was off to the port to embark on a Pirate’s island-hopping journey (sans pillage and other objectionable activity!) through the Southern Caribbean for 7 days aboard the Norwegian Dawn. She’s a fine ship – meticulously well maintained and brimming with a wealth of great entertainment and bounty of good food – but that is for another post, for the highlights of this trip are the magnificent islands – a strand of fine gems dotting the Atlantic and Caribbean Sea. I wore it well.

The first stop was Barbados, the southernmost point of our itinerary. Despite the fact that it was December and snowing when I left home, in Barbados it was in the mid 70s with a gentle breeze of sun-drenched, fresh-scented air. I would be meeting some new friends this day – the “green monkeys” of Barbados, on the Green Monkey Encounter and 4×4 Adventure excursion.

Barbados 2

To my surprise, I was greeted by far more than adorable monkeys, but tortoises and deer as well. These animals were fearless – approaching people with reckless abandon, allowing for very close contact (sans touching – the sign warned they bite!) and amazing photo ops. The monkeys also interacted with each other – grooming each other, screeching at each other, and chasing one another swinging limb to limb through the trees. They sat on the tortoises, who showed no indication of minding. Surrounded by monkeys, out in the open – not in a zoo, this was a truly unique experience (despite the joke-cracking about the monkeys down here from the Caribbeans who claim they have been overrun a la “Planet of the Apes!”) After our visit with the monkeys, we proceeded to scenic areas for more amazing photos as long as we could evade the distraction of eager local vendors.

Barbados 3

The final leg of the journey involved a 4×4 romp through the jungle, our rum punches sloshing out of plastic cups as we bounced around in our seats. It was great fun! Barbados was a beautiful island, with crystal clear water beaches, an upscale economy, and architecture unimpaired by hurricane damage (our tour guide advised us this is because of the location of Barbados and wind stream in the area.)

Martinique was the next day’s port – and the highlight of the trip. Happy to brush up on my college French, I wasn’t just in Martinique, I was in France. Martinique remains a region of France, rather than having become independent as many of her sister islands had done. Transported to another culture, and with magnificent scenery of mountains plunging into ocean, black sand beaches, and the most vibrant flowers I’d ever witnessed, it was “très magnifique!”

Martinique 3

Martinique 4

We stopped at the church (shown above) of Sacre Coeur, said to be a miniaturized version of the landmark church in Paris. The residents I encountered on Martinique patriotically displayed their admiration for their compatriots in continental France. The tour bus traversed steep mountainside roads, bright colors splashed along the roadside in the form of beautiful flowers. Enormous peaks shadowed deeply plunged valleys – those with a fear of heights be forewarned. We continued on to a rum factory, DePaz, which showed the process of creating this intoxicating (literally) drink. The rum was prepared in gigantic vats, and aged in perfectly crafted barrels. The best part, of course, was the tasting at the end of the tour – especially since it was the finest rum I’d ever tasted – sweet but not overbearingly so. The final stop on the tour was the local museum, which had displays on local famous (and infamous) citizens, and some historic artifacts. Outside cannons lined the elevated overlook, wary of battles against the British in bygone days.

Martinique 2

A local woman was selling beautiful handcrafted objects that were a delight to view along with tourist trinkets. Hot in the December sun (!) I picked up a handcrafted fan with a brightly colored plaid pattern traditional to the island. Looking back, I regret not further expanding my collection of souvenirs with her enviable wares. She had some beautiful dolls in traditional textiles that stand out in my memory. Good news, I have an excuse to return (not that I didn’t have one already!)

It was back to the ship again after another amazing adventure, and time to gaze from my shipboard balcony at the bold orange sunset blanketed in blue and violet ribbons you expect to see in paintings more than in real life.  A perfect end to a perfect day.

Stay subscribed next time for Part 2: St. Kitts, Antigua, and St. Thomas. A review of the Dawn will be covered in a future post.

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December in San Juan!

75ish degrees in December? Check. Quaint, narrow streets and pastel-splashed colonial buildings? Check. Awe-inspiring glimpses into colonial Caribbean history? Check. Mountainside neighborhoods plunging into spectacular oceanfront promenades and beaches? Check. The sounds of an exotic language and scents and tastes of an exotic cuisine, right here at home? Check. A magnificent harbor dotted with the grandest of cruise ships to the smallest of sailboats, basking in the luxurious warmth of the December sun and floating on glistening pastel blue waters? Check. San Juan, Puerto Rico is a beautiful winter escape from the continental U.S. No passport required… and no parka required. Enjoy a piping hot chicken empanada as you stroll down a cobbled street gazing at the pastel hues of architecture from another era and you may as well be a million miles away.

San Juan 1

We stopped here before catching the Norwegian Dawn cruise ship’s Southern Caribbean itinerary, sailing out of San Juan. This city is well worth exploring before or after a cruise out of the port. San Juan is busy rebuilding after hurricane season, and tourist dollars are a big help – so do not let the damage reports deter you. Outside of the tourist areas there are neighborhoods where power has not yet been restored, and some buildings show damage. But for the most part the city is vibrant and restored, and glorious to behold. Taking a cruise out of San Juan? Do not overlook this port during your travel adventures. Sick of snow, bulky layers, and scraping ice off your windshield? Ditto. As a U.S. territory, Puerto Rico is an easy visit for U.S. citizens – so you can focus on all of the things you’d like to see and do here instead of the red tape you need to overcome to get here!

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The above photo shows the view from the top of the fort in Old San Juan, meticulously maintained by the National Park Service. This is an absolute must-see stop for any visitor to San Juan. You’ll feel like a kid again, curiously advancing through dark tunnels and running up stairs to the top of this imposing structure eager to see how high it goes, and imagining bearing down against pirates and imperial powers alike in a real-life, super-cool fort! A short film will introduce you to the history of the fort and the U.S. presence in Puerto Rico, and then wander the grounds where you will find the barracks, a dungeon complete with colonial-era graffiti (!), pop-marked outer walls given their character from repeated attacks in colonial days, and utterly magnificent views over the entire city.

San Juan 5

The National Park Service has clearly gone to tremendous care to restore and maintain this breathtaking landmark. Surrounded by history, and unencumbered by droves of tourists during the off-season, you are transported back in time. The fort is also surprisingly accessible for older visitors and those who may have mobility issues. An elevator transports you up to the level of the main square, and benches are available throughout to take a breather and reflect. For the disabled, admission is also free. (It’s $7 for everyone else – money well spent to help with preservation.)

I hope that you too have had or will have the chance to visit this delightful city – preferably in the winter when, if you are like me, you’d really rather not be getting buried in snow – and heavy layers of clothing – at home! Should you visit, you are sure to say “Hasta luego!” (until later) rather than goodbye when you regrettably have to leave. (Don’t forget you pack your shorts and t-shirts!) More on our cruise through the Southern Caribbean coming soon!

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Welcome!

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Photo: Costumed locals in the Dominican Republic

As a frequent traveler, I wanted to get some reviews, tips, and photos out there to hopefully inspire readers (travelers and armchair travelers alike!) and hopefully give some ideas and heads-up knowledge to help you better prepare for your own trips, my fellow travel fans! There will be something for everyone here; I take all different kinds of trips from independent travel, to cruises, to resort vacations (both casino and all-inclusive resorts), to weekend getaways, to flying trips, to road trips, to train trips, and more. I have been to 15 foreign countries and traveled extensively in the U.S. As a college student (albeit an older college student), I am not wealthy, so many of you will find the kinds of trips I take affordable, but not shoestring. In addition to information about travel destinations and transportation, I aim to offer other practical tips such as planning, packing, travel gear advice, and help saving money.

Given it’s the end of 2017, I have been planning my 2018 travel adventures. I aim to have most of the year planned out within the next few weeks. I rely heavily on my tax refund to travel, so I try to plan in advance for the whole year and pay as much as I can up-front and at-once. I strive to travel approximately every month – some months twice and a few not at all – as my school schedule allows. I also work, on a flexible schedule. I am often asked how I can afford to travel as much as I do – having more taken out of my paycheck throughout the year, getting a bigger refund, and planning ahead when I have that windfall is one of the ways. Other people set aside a travel budget every month, which works too if you have the discipline to pull it off. (I don’t!) I also use rewards programs, discount travel sites, and methods of getting travel experiences “comped” which I will be happy to share with you.

Writing is my second passion, after travel. I would like to post at least once per week, so on some occasions I may post about trips I took earlier in the year before I began this blog. I have had some thrilling experiences that have remained fresh in my memory. I hope you will have many thrilling travel memories, too. All photos on this blog will be my own.

I hope you will continue to join me in these adventures!