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Are You a Pirate at Heart? Find Out in St. Thomas

Start at the top in St. Thomas, USVI. There are lots of ways to do this, but if you think you might be a pirate at heart, start at Blackbeard’s Castle, high above the harbor. Whether you take a tour or take a taxi, chances are you will stop at the overlook on the way to Blackbeard’s. In one direction you will see the cruise ships at dock in Charlotte Amalie; in the other, you will gaze out to the azure sea. (If a man holding a donkey is charging you five dollars “donation” for a picture, then you are in the right place. He says the “donation” is for the ASPCA, but the ASPCA should really rescue the donkey. )

Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, USVI

Looking away from the dock area, Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas

Carry onwards and upwards to Blackbeard’s hangout. This locale has two pools, spacious changing rooms, chaise lounges, and a bar and restaurant, too. The expansive view is just more booty. They make delicious flavored rums here now, so take the tour and taste all of the varieties. Afterwards, you will be in fine spirits to climb the lookout tower and do all of the fun, touristy, pirate-themed photo ops available.

I get into trouble everywhere I go!

Climb to the top of Blackbeard’s lookout tower for a great view

Now begins the descent down the 99- steps from the hilltop to the shopping district below. In between you will pass beautiful historic homes (many with docents giving talks on early island life), bountiful gardens, and statues commemorating various events in St. Thomas’s past. It’s a gradual descent. The 99 steps are not all together in one long staircase!

At the Statue of the Virgins you are one-third of the way down the 99-steps. You can see Blackbeard’s lookout tower in the background on the hilltop.

When you laugh your way to nearly street level (a function of the rum, no doubt), you’ll be ready for the cool oasis of the Amber Museum. The Amber Waterfall welcomes you, and inside you’ll learn about amber from all over the world. Did you know real amber floats in saltwater? It also smells like pine if you hit it with a hot needle. There is apparently a lot of fake amber on the market.  I never knew it came in so many colors! The blue-green is especially beautiful, and you can purchase a piece to take home here.

The Amber Waterfall at the Amber Museum

Then it’s off to shop in St. Thomas’s world-class duty-free shopping district. You will land right in the middle of it at the end of your 99- step tour. I suggest seeking out the Belgian Chocolate store in the little mall. You are also very close to the ferry that can whisk you back to your cruise ship if it is docked at Crown Bay instead of right downtown. Take your sword, your eye patch, your pirate hat, and your bottle of authentic island rum and mosey on back to your own sailing ship, just as Blackbeard did hundreds of years ago.

Your sailing ship awaits

As you leave St. Thomas to a picture perfect sunset, make plans to return. This island never fails to provide a fun time. I’ll tell you about other adventures in future blog posts. You can start planning your own St. Thomas getaway by land or sea at www.susanmcdanieltravel.com . Then contact me at 561-841-2224 or susan@susanmcdanieltravel.com to finalize your trip details.  The United States Virgin Islands are a national treasure. Even Blackbeard recognized that fact.

Leaving St. Thomas and another perfect cruise day! See you again soon

The Lazy Traveler’s Guide to Waterfalls in Dominica

Dominica is known as The Nature Isle with good reason.  Boasting a multitude of rivers and waterfalls, rainforests, and virtually untouched terrain, Dominica oozes flora and fauna. Adventurous and energetic travelers hike mountains, canyoneer, river raft, and do all manner of active tours. But what’s a lazy person to do? Or someone with physical limitations? We aimed to find out by taking a tour off of the Holland America Noordam called Accessible Dominica.

A comfortable van took twelve of us from the port to three stops: Morne Bruce for a hilltop view of the port of Roseau; the Dominica Botanical Gardens; and finally, way up the winding road to the rainforest and our ultimate destination of Jacko Falls.

Our tour guide dropped us off at a rustic outcropping of Rastafarians in the midst of the rain forest. And I mean rustic. And remote. A hand painted sign announced the location of Jacko Falls.  “Refrshing” and “One Humn Famly” it proclaimed. A very happy dreadlocked man greeted us and offered us rum shots, fruit juice, or fresh pieces of papaya and coconut “for a small donation.”

Modern bathrooms were easily accessible and made changing into and out of swimsuits easy work. Locals sold beautiful handmade jewelry, bird feeders, and other items from bamboo huts located adjacent to a cement sidewalk and metal guard rail. Thunderous sounds of water drowned out conversations as we peered over the railing into the rainforest jungle, trying to sneak a peek of Jacko Falls.

A sturdy set of rather steep cement steps descended some seventy feet to the base of the falls. Steps were slippery in spots due to the moisture, but they made the falls accessible to the lazy traveler, as well as those with physical limitations.

Once at the base of the steps, a beautiful stream materialized out of the greenery. It caught the water overflow from the falls and meandered on down the mountain through the rainforest. It’s quite a picturesque scene, but does not prepare you for the beauty of the falls itself. Suddenly the air became mistier, heavy with moisture. It smelled clean and fresh. The sound of the waterfall was deafening.

As you turned towards the sound, the Garden of Eden emerged. It  was exquisite and surreal in its beauty. Crystal clear torrents of water crashed into a shallow pool lined with smooth river rocks. To the side is a cave where, no doubt, the Rastafarians hold “religious ceremonies” once the tourists leave. Remnants of a fire were visible. Imagine what this scene would look like at night, by firelight!

A short walk over a gravel path and then some smooth stones led to the pool below the falls. The water was warmer than you might think, and a light blue hue. The entire scene is surrounded by encroaching greenery of all types. The rainforest fauna thrives here and threatens to swallow up the falls and the river it created.

It is all reminiscent of an old Tarzan movie. Huge vines dangled down, seemingly in midair. You wonder if there is another cave behind the waterfall filled with treasure, just like in the old movies.  Maybe you want to let out a Tarzan scream as you splash around in the waterfall pool. Do plan to take the plunge at Jacko Falls in Dominica. It is easy to walk in and out of the pool, and it may be a once in a lifetime opportunity. Luckily, the opportunity is available to even the less energetic, less phyically- able adventurers among us.

Allow me to arrange your cruise or land vacation to the Nature Island of Dominica. Call me at 561-841-2224 or e-mail at susan@susanmcdanieltravel.com.

Dominica has many other waterfalls you might also enjoy. Among them are Emerald Pool. This one requires more physical effort to reach than Jacko Falls but it is not a strenuous hike. Experienced tour guides are available through your cruise ship or I can make arrangements for you. You will find the beauty in Dominica stays with you long after your vacation is over.

How To Find A Quiet Beach Day In St. Martin When There Are Five Ships In Port

Your long-awaited cruise is taking you to beautiful St. Maarten/St. Martin. You go online to www.cruisett.com and discover there will be five cruise ships in port the day you will be there. How will you ever find a quiet, peaceful beach day with five ships in port?

Don’t panic. Your off-the-tourist-track beach day is a taxi and “ferry” ride away. I highly recommend you make arrangements to spend the day on Pinel Island (Ilet Pinel). This beautiful, secluded, and blissfully quiet little island sits north and east of popular Orient Beach on Orient Bay. It has a gorgeous sandy beach. No sand shoes are needed here. Feel the sand squish between your toes. It’s also an easy walk in and out of the surf, with no steep grades. The water is relatively shallow for some distance from shore so it is convenient for children. And yet, there is snorkeling available in somewhat deeper water for the adventurous. Beach lounge chairs and umbrellas line the beach. You can relax out of the sun. An interesting gift shop showcases colorful pareos when you feel like browsing.

But wait! There’s more. Three restaurants and bars sit literally steps behind you. The smell of grilled ribs and chicken is irresistible. Our lunch was included in a package so I can’t say how expensive it was, but from the taste of the ribs I’d have to say whatever the price, it’s worth it. You can also pick your own fresh lobster from the cages in the surf. They are definitely fresh because we saw several “wild” lobsters while we were snorkeling.

Of course, there are always cautions whenever you travel. First, I have not yet seen a ship sponsored tour to Pinel Island. You will have to hire a taxi, find an independent tour operator, or get a boat ride over from Orient Beach. However you get there, you must demand that you be returned to your ship well ahead of the “all aboard” call. This issue became a point of contention on our trip because the tour operator also picked up people from a hotel. Those people did not want to leave early enough for us to make it to our ship. Again, you must make your demand.

Second, the “ferry” to Pinel Island from Cul de Sac is not a ferry at all. It is a large wooden boat with wooden benches and  an outboard motor. It is not a long trip to the island, maybe five minutes, but it was a full boat when we went over. It wasn’t comfortable, but it got us there. The ferry charge was included in our package deal, but I think it cost $6 per person otherwise.

With those cautions in mind, there is a lot more to do on Pinel Island than what we managed to accomplish in one day. There is a hiking path around the island. There are more secluded snorkel  and swimming spots. The main beach is not clothing optional, but the other ones down the hiking path are au natural at your whim. I also hear there is shallow water diving available here. The snorkeling, as mentioned, is easily accessible.

Forget the madding crowds. Pinel Island affords the perfect beach day: swim, snorkel, drink, eat, and sleep. It was a wonderful Caribbean beach day even though there were five cruise ships in port, and one of them was ours.

FYI: The tour operator we used was www.stmaartencruiseexcursions.com . The tour was called the Tiki Hut Tour and Snorkeling Experience. I am not affiliated with this tour operator. This information is provided solely for educational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.

3 Things You Must Do On Maho Beach, St. Maarten

The first thing you must do is Duck! This beautiful beach to the west of Simpson Bay on the Dutch Side of St. Martin (St. Maarten) is notorious for its proximity to the airport. Planes of all sizes routinely land and take-off, seemingly within feet of the beach. In fact, swimmers are cautioned to secure their belongings out of the flight path lest a jumbo jet blow items (and them, too, judging from the sign) into the surf. The danger, or perhaps the juxtaposition of the serene surf again the roaring planes, is a big draw. This is a very popular beach on St. Maarten.

The second thing you have to do is swim. A gorgeous strand of silky sand and azure water beckons. (The airport sits across the street to the right, east.)

The third thing you have to do is party! The fabulous and famous Sunset Beach Bar sits adjacent to Maho Beach. It has several sprawling decks, an extensive bar, band facilities, rest rooms, changing areas, and friendly people. It was voted #3 Sexiest Beach Bar in the World by Travel Channel viewers and they were right. This place rocks.

Have some fun on lovely, lively St. Martin/Sint Maarten. Call me today so we can start planning your island escape. 561-841-2224

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