Spring Break 2010 Caribbean Cruise – Part I

14 04 2010

MS Westerdam - Holland America Cruise Ship

We were blessed to be able to go on a Caribbean Cruise over the Spring Break. Joel’s mom had arranged for us to join her on a week long trip into the Eastern Caribbean, but at the very last minute she had to drop out for medical reasons. The cruise started in Fort Lauderdale (Florida) and we spent the first day at sea heading to our first destination – Grand Turk Island (Turks and Caicos Islands). One of the first things we noticed on our arrival there was the beautiful, crystal clear colors in the water.

Grand Turk Island

We walked from the pier into the old part of town (it turned out to be much further than we were told – 5 miles in total!). We spent some time looking around the old part of town – we even spent some time in a local church listening to local believers singing hymns in their local language (sounded French). Eventually we found a taxi to take us back to the pier / beach, where we enjoyed the wonderful scenery before boarding the ship to head off to our next destination. It would have been nice to have bit more time to do some exploring (we had to be back on board before the 2:30 pm departure) but it was still an enjoyable day.

Grand Turk Island

But most of all, we just enjoyed the beautiful scenery, and the amazing colors of the ocean water. This was so different from what we have seen in Asia – it was always hard to pull ourselves away from the beaches.

Beach at Grand Turk Island

Beach at Grand Turk Island

Our next port of call was San Juan. Puerto Rico. And as we were arriving we went by one of the historic forts [?] which helped us determine how we were going to spend our day! We were glad to hear that we had a bit more time here – we got off the boat around noon and had until 7:30 pm that evening.

Fort San Felipe del Morro - built in 16th century

We really enjoyed time walking around the old part of San Juan, it reminded us in many ways of some of the types of buildings and architecture we have seen in Macao. The weather was beautiful – nice and warm without any clouds or rain.

View coming into Old San Juan, Puerto Rico

We found a tourism information center shortly after getting off the ship, and it was helpful to get some maps and information from them on some of the historic places we could visit. There was a small park nearby, and as we sat there looking at our map and trying to decide where we should go, we noticed a horse and carriage nearby, and decided that might be a neat way to see some of the historic part of town.

Horse Carriage ride around Old San Juan

Horse Carriage ride around Old San Juan

The horse carriage ride didn’t last as long as we would have liked, but it was an memorable introduction to old San Juan. It also allowed us to see some of the parts of old San Juan that we wanted to go back and spend more time checking out.

Streets of Old San Juan, Puerto Rico

Streets of Old San Juan, Puerto Rico

One of the interesting things we learned during our horse & carriage ride was the background on the unique cobblestone that covered many of the roads in old San Juan. We were told that these blue colored bricks were originally used as ballast for ships that came from Europe to the Caribbean in the 16-1700’s.

Christopher Columbus Statue - San Juan, Puerto Rico

Christopher Columbus Statue - San Juan, Puerto Rico

We spent time wandering around the streets, enjoying the scenery, and the history of this city. As usual, we would have liked much more time to be able to explore the many different areas, and before we knew it, it was time to head back to the pier and get on board before the ship left.

View of Old San Juan and beach from Fort San Felipe del Morro

View of Old San Juan and beach from Fort San Felipe del Morro

By the time we got back on board (after doing some last minute shopping) we were tired and ready to put our feet up and relax. All in all, it was a very enjoyable day, and we were sad to say good-bye to Puerto Rico!

Fort San Felipe del Morro – built in 16th century




Spring Break 2010 Caribbean Cruise – Part II

14 04 2010

The fifth day of our cruise took us from San Juan, Puerto Rico to Philipsburg, St. Maarten. Since we had never traveled to this part of the world before, we were constantly learning new things about each of our destinations. St. Maarten (St. Martin) is divided between the French half (north part of the island) and the Dutch part (south part of the island). You can probably guess which side of the island we went to, since we were traveling on a Holland America cruise ship! That’s right – the Dutch side!

View of Philipsburg's harbor

View of Philipsburg's harbor

Upon our arrival, we took a water taxi from the pier over to Philipsburg, where we spent of our time shopping. We had heard from another passenger that this was the best place to shop – so we walked through the streets enjoying the scenery before spending time in the various street markets and jewelry stores (yes Debbie found a nice necklace & ring!).

Methodist Church - St. Philipsburg

Methodist Church - Philipsburg

As in all of our ports that we visited, there was definitely a very casual and laid back approach to life in St. Maarten. One of our regrets was that we didn’t have more time to see more of the island (we learned later on that one of the beaches on the French side of St. Maarten was ranked in the top 10 beaches in the world!). This was definitely a very beautiful place, and would have enjoyed having more time to explore and see the various sites.

Beach at St. Philipsburg, St. Maarten

Beach at Philipsburg, St. Maarten

Like many of the places we visited, the beautiful white sand beaches and turquoise colors of the waters amazed us – the pictures we took do not do justice to the beauty of this island. Before we knew it, our time was over, and we were heading back to the ship and our next port of call.

Half Moon Cay, Bahamas

Half Moon Cay, Bahamas

Holland America owns their own private island in the Bahamas – Half Moon Cay, and this was our last stop in the Caribbean. This time the ship didn’t dock at a pier, but rather we dropped anchor off-shore, and there were boats that ferried us into the beach. And once we got there, we were not disappointed by the view – a beautiful white beach to sit on and enjoy the sun and amazing scenery.

Half Moon Cay, Bahamas

Half Moon Cay, Bahamas

While there were some excursions that we could have signed up to do on the island, we just wanted to spend some time of the beach sun tanning and swimming in the water. It was a wonderful time relaxing on the beach, soaking up the sun (literally!) – just what we needed.

Debbie enjoying the sun & water on the beach at Half Moon Cay, Bahamas

Debbie enjoying the sun & water on the beach at Half Moon Cay, Bahamas

Eventually it was time for us to head back to the ship – we tried to wait until the last possible minute before we boarded the tender back to the MS Westerdam – we wanted to spend as much time as possible on the beach without putting us in danger of being left behind (I don’t know what they would have done if we had missed the tenders taking us back to the cruise ship!).

Joel & Debbie - Half Moon Cay beach

Joel & Debbie - Half Moon Cay beach

Before we knew it, our time on board was over, and we were headed back to Fort Lauderdale where we caught a flight to Minneapolis and then onto Portland (OR). There were so many more pictures that we could have added to these blogs – the scenery was amazing in each of the ports we visited, and our time on board the MS Westerdam was an enjoyable time. We missed getting pictures of the dolphins and flying fish that we saw from the balcony of our suite, but we didn’t miss the many beautiful sunsets through out the week.

Caribbean Sunset

Caribbean Sunset

Eventually all good things must come to an end, and so did our week long cruise to the Caribbean. I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to get back there on another cruise – this will be a special memory for us to look back on in the years to come.

Caribbean Sunset

Caribbean Sunset