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Half Moon Cay, Bahamas

Half Moon Cay, Bahamas

Clients are in Half Moon Cay, Bahamas this week aboard a Holland America cruise. I ran across this picture I took last spring while I was there and thought I’d share it as I think about them. This is a private island in the Bahamas that HAL cruisers get to enjoy. The crescent beach is beautiful, the sand is powdery, and the colors are obviously magnificent.

The Bahamas sport such wonders on all their islands. I’d love to help you plan a vacation there, whether by land or by sea. Call 561-841-2224 or e-mail at susan@susanmcdanielttravel.com.

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.

Soar Through the Rainforest in St. Lucia – No Zipline Required

St. Lucia’s rainforest tempted us away from our usual quest for the perfect beach. Instead of a sand and surf excursion, we booked the “tranopy” tour or aerial tram. How surprising it was to experience a deep serenity and relaxation here. The air was unlike any other place we have ever been. They say the extra oxygen from the plants, or the coolness from the altitude, makes the air feel special. To us, however, it felt primordial. Life and nature enveloped us, washed over us, and soothed us.

 We soon learned that the tram was actually like a ski lift. A nine-person gondola, or “gon-DOE-la” in native parlance, lifts you up the top of the forest and gently glides you back down again. In between, you feel the temperature change, feel the sensation of the air brushing past you, feel exhilarated from the inside out, and learn about this unusual habitat. Our knowledgable tour guide, Kizzy (pronounced Kee-zy) stood in the back and narrated. She pointed out plants, wildlife, and vegetation. She also strategically inserted silence into our trip up the mountain. This allowed the small sounds of the forest to rise up. The tweet of the birds, the gurgle of a stream, the rustle of leaves became audible.

Ferns grow into trees here. The ones in the picture are at least twelve feet tall. Vines dangle like in an old Tarzan movie. Orchids grow in unlikely places, like the enormous one growing up the tree (see picture). Trees bloom and palms form forests of their own. Waterfalls cascade and streams rush.

My only complaint about the experience was that this area is also used by zipliners. Their noise definitely disturbs the wildlife. You can zipline anywhere. Perhaps the serenity of the forest should be experienced and the adrenaline rush of the zipline saved for another, less sacred, location.

After the aerial portion of the tour, an optional 20-minute trek through the forest was offered. Only half of the tour participants came along on this little hike, but I highly recommend it. Being on the ground gives you an entirely different perspective of the rainforest. You can see things from the ground up and appreciate the small plants on the forest floor, the tiny animals scurrying about, as well as the height of the trees. Plus, there’s free rum punch waiting at the gift shops.

This tour is a wonderful way for less mobile, less adventurous, less motivated travelers to experience the wonders of a rainforest. If more people experienced the intangible, peaceful feeling we enjoyed, perhaps worldwide efforts to preserve the remaining rainforests would be more successful.

FYI: If you are cruising, the tour is only a 30-minute drive from the dock at Pointe Seraphine, near Castries. It arrives back in plenty of time for you to peruse the shops at Pointe Seraphine, get back onboard, and enjoy the scenic cruising to Soufriere.

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.

Dominica by Cruise Ship

The tiny island of Dominica is a gem in the rough. Exploring its wonders by cruise ship was the highlight of our entire voyage. Surely a land vacation here would reveal many more delights, but a day- long visit was enough to intrigue and inspire.

Arrival early in the morning revealed a mountainous island shrouded in mist and surrounded by azure waters. A large white cross planted on the hillside above the port, barely visible through the mist, seemed otherworldly and mysterious. The cruise ship docked at a modern pier in deep water where passengers conveniently walked off the ship, no tender required. A small town of brightly painted buildings, none more than two or three stories high, beckoned to visitors.

We walked around the little town of Roseau, Dominica (not to be confused with the Dominican Republic). Dominica is a totally undeveloped island known for its rainforests, reefs, and natural beauty. There are no condos, malls, or other trappings of tourism so prevalent on the other islands. For us, we have all the shopping we need at home. We have more condos than we know what to do with. What we don’t have is real, natural, unspoiled beauty and interesting cultural differences.

We struck out into the town using a little map received from the Dominica tourist board before we left home. The streets are uneven cobblestone and probably very hard to maneuver for handicapped visitors. Watch your step! The shops are small and stark. But the attitudes are warm and welcoming. Everywhere we were met with “Good morning, madam,” and a smile. No conversation began without the requisite “Good morning,” or “Good day.”  It was all so civilized, and we loved it.

Heady aromas wafted from a spice shop called the Ruins Rock Café . I wanted vanilla beans and tellicherry peppercorns grown on-island and sure enough, they had them. They also had an abundance of medicinal teas, one called “Horny Mix.”

I asked, “What is ‘Horny Mix’ tea?”

“Oh, madam,” this beautiful young lady with tawny skin and a voice that caressed the senses replied, “That is an aphrodisiac. You should try some.”

I laughed and said, “No, no, I don’t think so,” as my husband blushed.

Suddenly the elderly (really, elderly!) English lady in front of me said, “Oh I just bought some for my husband and my lover! Oh dear, I just let the cat out of the bag now, didn’t I?”

It was a priceless vacation moment. That same lady led the way to the handicraft market behind the Dominican Museum (red tin roof building you can see from port). There stood a wealth of local handicrafts, as well as some probably made in China. Good-natured haggling over beautiful woven baskets and a carved calabash melon remains a fond memory.

Later in the day we gathered at the end of the pier for our 1:00PM snorkel trip to Champagne Beach. Here geothermal vents open underwater (the island is volcanic) and create bubble streams in the water which make it look like you are swimming in a glass of champagne.

Friends on a previous cruise had done this trip unescorted, but we opted for the ship’s tour. We enjoyed having our snorkel guide, Big Dave, available. He pointed out a 400-year-old shipwreck with cannon, anchor, and rode which we never would have noticed without his guidance. Dave also collected some of the water from the vents in his snorkel for us to feel. It was scorching hot. Our most interesting sighting was a spotted moray eel. There were lots of tropical fish we had not seen before because we were farther south than usual.

Dave also pointed out the twin mountain peaks above our location. That is where they filmed one segment of Pirates of the Caribbean where Johnny Depp is suspended between the mountains in the spiked ball. That scene was shot above Champagne Beach on Dominica. The tours from the ships are more expensive than going out on your own, but information like that, which you recall later, may be worth the extra expense.

The beach at Champagne Beach is reddish volcanic rock. You must have Teva’s or sand shoes because it is painful trying to walk on it barefoot. Luckily there is a long boardwalk for most of the way to the snorkel site.

With the tour we received complimentary rum punch (potent!), or excellent Kabuli beer. Make sure you enjoy the Kabuli beer if you like a pale ale. It is excellent and you cannot find it anywhere else. The beer is locally made with spring water from the rainforest. The bottled water is also locally bottled at Soufiere Spring on Dominica. Make sure you buy this water rather than drinking water from your cruise ship. Again, you can only get it on Dominica and it is memorable because it is so delicious.

As the cruise ship prepared to leave for the next stop, we were stunned to see a rainbow arching over the mountain peaks and rainforest of Dominica. The beauty of that rainbow was a fitting ending to a beautiful day. At a later date we hope to find the end of that rainbow on the other side of the island as we further explore Dominica.

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