Tired Of Caribbean Islands? No Problem: We’ll Make More, Say Cruise Lines

After a few sailings in the Caribbean, North American cruise travelers can get tired of going to the same islands. Their cruise vacation may be a great value and easy to do but they want more. The problem is that ships can only go so far before having to turn around and get back in a week, the time most travelers have for vacation. The answer: make more islands.

While the cruise industry has not exactly figured out how to make there be land where there was none before, they have become good at building custom cruise ports. New Banana Coast cruise port in Honduras is a great example.

Beginning construction in 2011, the $30 million Banana Coast cruise destination is scheduled to open in November 2014. Billed as “Where the Rainforest Meets the Sea,” the western Caribbean port already has cruise lines adding Banana Coast as a port of call. So far, Silversea Cruises, Holland America Line and, just this week, Oceania Cruises have committed to regular stops with more lines expected as they roll out future itineraries.When the project is complete, Banana Coast will have a 50,000-square-foot shopping facility and transportation hub, which will take visitors to other places on the island. Possible experiences include a VIP airplane trip to the Mayan ruins, snorkeling, kayaking, ATV rides, a culinary tasting tour and more. The diverse climate and topography of Honduras offers waterfalls, rivers, streams, mountains, a tropical rainforest, a nature reserve, coral reefs and crystal clear waters all at the same destination.

This is not the first man-made Caribbean cruise destination either. The Jamaica port of Falmouth, a joint project between Royal Caribbean International and the Port Authority of Jamaica, is another good example. Reminiscent of the historic 1700’s and 1800’s when Falmouth was the big port for sugar exports worldwide, the port is built to handle Royal Caribbean’s huge Oasis-class ships. The location also allows visitors to do shore excursions from both existing ports of Montego Bay and Ocho Rios, each about a half-hour away.

Back in Honduras, the Mahogany Bay Cruise Center is a Carnival Corporation sponsored destination that has welcomed over one million cruise passengers since opening in 2009. The Roatan, Honduras, location is on 20 acres of waterfront property and is an attractive area to visit for guests of Carnival Cruise Lines. In addition, there are sister-lines Seabourn, Princess Cruises, Holland America, Costa Cruises and non-Carnival Corporation vessels.

In the Dominican Republic, construction continues on the Amber Cove Cruise Center, a giant $65 million facility that will be able to accommodate up to 8,000 cruise passengers and 2,000 crew members daily. This one is expected to host more than 250,000 cruise passengers in its first year of operation. Amber Cove will feature a welcome center with a variety of retail offerings, including a marketplace for locally sourced Dominican crafts and souvenirs, as well as a wide range of themed restaurants and bars, water attractions and a transportation hub allowing visitors easy access by land and sea to the surrounding destinations and attractions.

As the high price of airfare continues to keep North American cruise travelers sailing from home ports scattered around the United States, look for these man-made islands to continue gaining popularity.

Another Caribbean destination, which has become increasingly accessible by sea or air is Curacao. Boasting 35 beaches and an eclectic mix of history and culture, the capital city of Willemstad, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is a good choice to visit as we see in this video:

Video Of The Day: Little Corn Island, Nicaragua

I was recently researching Little Corn Island, Nicaragua. I instantly became charmed by the island and obsessed with the idea of visiting it as soon as possible. But it’s difficult to find footage online featuring the tiny island. Situated 43 miles east of Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast, the island only encompasses 1.1 square miles. The island’s highest point is only 125 feet. Little Corn Island is a beautiful little dot on the map, populated largely by English-speaking Creole people. This video captures the island so far the best of any I’ve seen, and I have a feeling it still hardly does it justice.

St Barths hosts the rich, famous and hikers

St Barths, arguably one of the most beautiful islands in the Caribbean, is host to the rich and famous from all over the world. But the same beauty that draws celebrities and billionaires makes for some diverse climbing, hiking, cycling and photo opportunities not found elsewhere.

“Beyonce, Lindsay Lohan, Derek Jeter and Mariah Carey love the tropical island” says ABCNews. TheStreet calls St Barts “a glitterati playground of billionaires and pop culture icons who descend between Christmas and New Years for an annual Caribbean migration of debauchery and excess.” Indeed, during our December visit, the port of Gustavia was packed with $multi-million yachts that had made their annual trek to St Barths for the holidays.

We toured the entire 8 square mile volcanic rock island by car in less than two hours. Driving up steep well-kept streets, through some heavy traffic in downtown Gustavia, we passed those yachts in port for the holidays and sidewalks packed with seasonal visitors.

On foot, walking the bustling French city, we saw a who’s who of designer label clothing and jewelry shops, sidewalk cafe’s and bakeries.

But traveling out of town, sparsely populated countryside boasted sweeping vistas with breathtaking, panoramic views. Cyclists stopped for photos and hikers paused to drink in the sweeping vistas only offered here.The countryside remains mostly untouched and probably very much like when Columbus discovered St Barths (AKA St Barts, Saint Barthelemy) in 1493. Walks, hikes and rock climbing opportunities are plentiful with difficulty levels to match just about anyone.

A walk around around Pointe Milou is mostly flat, taking a path from the main road to Colombier Beach and back adds more difficulty and a hike from Grand Fond over Morne Rouge to Saline Beach involves a lot of rock climbing. English-speaking guides are readily available since the island’s main industry is tourism. Reminiscent of Martinique visually, St Barths is very much a French island today even though it took a while for that to happen.


French colonists from nearby St Kitts first settled it in 1648. The island changed hands several times but was finally given legal status as a Department of France in 1946, much like Americans made Hawaii a state.

Today, St Barths enjoys year-round travelers coming for a luxurious experience not found elsewhere in the Caribbean. But there are also regular, normal people visiting too. (See St Barths on shoe leather and a thumb) We’re not billionaires, celebrities or famous in any way but felt safe and comfortable on this beautiful island by car and on foot.

Still, it’s hard not to stop for photos of Rudolph Nureyev’s house overlooking the ocean by day or a $50 million yacht lit up at night.

This is one of those “I could live here” places.

Photos: Whitney Owen

Exploring Grenada: do as locals do

Of all the Caribbean islands to visit, Grenada is arguably the most out of the way. A little time in St. Maarten and Grand Cayman piqued my interest in island life long before I found myself out of the way, far away, hanging out in Grenada: a 133 square mile island with a population of 110,000 just northeast of Venezuela.

Before taking off for the trip, my father and my boyfriend’s father, and maybe even some other fathers I’m dismissing from my memory, cracked a joke or two about the relationship with Americans they assumed Grenadians would have.

“Careful out there! They’re probably not too happy with Americans after that invasion”.

But if there was any truth lurking in these cautions, I found no trace of it during the week I spent in Grenada. Murals and praises for Barack Obama and the U.S.A. graffitied more than a couple walls I spotted while driving around on my own (Note: Grenadians drive on the left. Accidentally reverting back to driving on the right is a bad idea). These painted walls are still damaged from Hurricane Ivan–a calamitous Category 3 hurricane that hit the island directly in 2004. The storm damaged or destroyed 90 percent of the homes on the island. A much less severe Hurricane Emily followed Ivan in 2005 and caused an estimated $110 million USD in damages despite her modesty. Although Grenada has recovered impressively from these blows, the skeletons of buildings torn through still stand, exposing their disillusioning vacancy as an ongoing reminder: life can end at any moment, so live each day to the fullest.
%Gallery-114506%Grenadians embrace this concept naturally instead of intentionally. The island way of life is engrained in the psyche of Grenadians–they seem to be predispositioned to relax. And who can fault them? I’d relax if I lived in a tropical paradise, too.

With a pungent distaste for tourist clusters and an insatiable desire to submerge ourselves in the island way of life, photographer Ben Britz and I set off to explore Grenada our preferred way–by following the advice of locals. And this required renting a car.

If you’re planning a trip to Grenada (pronounced greh-NAY-duh), the island of spice, do yourself a favor and leave the beautiful, but obvious, Grand Anse Beach. Here’s where you should go instead:

1. BBC Beach
BBC Beach is just around the corner from Grand Anse. Literally. You can walk from one to the other. The difference is an important one, though: BBC is a local treasure; Grand Anse is a tourist Mecca. BBC Beach is properly named Morne Rouge Beach and that’s how you’ll find it identified on maps. But locals call it BBC after a popular night club, now called Fantazia, that once operated on the beach. You’ll have these (predictably) teal waters all to yourself and a few locals at BBC, where the water is warm and calm. Grab a drink from Fantazia and enjoy vacation the way it’s supposed to be… peaceful. Tip: Bring your own chairs/blanket. Also, if you buy a drink, the nice people of Fantazia will let you park in their lot.

2. Patrick’s
If you want to eat some local homestyle cooking, Patrick’s is the needle in the haystack you’re seeking. Birthed from the mind and palate of the late Patrick Levine, his spirit lives on in his recipes. Although he never wrote down a single recipe, he trained the present owner, Karen Hall, in person, and she has creating this soulful food down to a science. For less than $25 a person, she’ll serve up local dishes that are, no exaggeration, perfect.

Breadfruit fritters and crab legs are just two of the twenty-some dishes they serve at Patrick’s for this low but all-inclusive price. Without even a modicum of good-restaurant haughtiness to match the good food, dining at Patrick’s is a delightfully casual experience. And lucky for you, the cottage-style restaurant is conveniently located in St. George’s. Tip: Call early and let them know the size of your party, especially if it’s a big one. Patrick’s is cozy in the only-a-dozen-or-so-people-can-fit kind of way, so you’ll want to be sure there’s room for all of you.

3. Gouyave Fish Fridays
You don’t want to miss this. Even if you have to stop in multiple towns along the winding dark road up to Gouyave asking porch-sitting folks for directions to the ‘Fish Fry’, directions which they’ll only disclose if you promise to bring them back a piece of fish, it’s well worth it. The town of Gouyave closes off streets and sets up for a charmingly raucous party every Friday–one that’s mostly meant for and mostly attended by locals.

Gouyave is a fishing village about 45 minutes away from the hotel district near St. George’s. From 6pm to around 1am every Friday, locals fry, grill, bake, steam, stir, and serve up seafood your taste buds won’t forget. St. Francis and St. Dominic streets line up with vendors ready to feed you and, by all means, let each of them feed you. A palatable aroma of freshly prepared seafood fills air. Fish cakes, shrimp, kebabs, lobster, conch, barbequed snapper… they have something for everyone.

Tropical juices, beers, and even Grenadian Chocolate ice cream are also available, ready to be paired with the meal of your choosing. If you want to experience a rollicking Friday night like a local, don’t miss out on the fish fry. Tip: Make the drive up in the daylight if possible. Kill some time in Gouyave before the frying begins. Why? Because driving the twisting waterside roads that lead there in the island’s pitch black is, as it turns out, kind of scary.

And finally, in closing, I leave you with this general tip for traveling in Grenada: Don’t be (overly) alarmed by the men who walk around carrying machetes. Sure, sometimes they’re used as weapons, but more often than not in Grenada, they’re used as tools.

[photos by Ben Britz]