Caribbean Tales and Tips and Shopping

 

 

I was armed and ready in preparation for our flight to Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

 

My list was prepared well ahead of time with reminders of what not to forget to pack, particularly the medications. Besides the prescription meds, I had to remember to bring along some medication that is available off the shelf here in Canada but requires prescription in the U.S.

Being a frequent visitor to the U.S. and one with an unpredictable sore hip, I learned quickly on a past visit to Las Vegas that Robax – muscle and back pain pills, are not available in the U.S. and I wasn’t leaving home without those babies. Advil sinus tablets are also not available in the U.S. and come in handy if a cold strikes.

Another thing on my lengthy list was to make sure I got us some masks for us to wear on the airplane. I couldn’t chance either of us catching another cold or flu from the recycled air on the plane from the sickies who travel and spread their germs, knowing we had to stay healthy to come home and fly out again. I’d often threatened to wear a mask on the plane every time I came home and caught something else, but thought I’d look ridiculous and people would think I was the germ carrier. But this time I didn’t care what we looked like. I had already stockpiled quite a few masks from my husband’s hospital treatment visits.

The stewardess looked at us a few times, smiling, yet I could see she was wondering why the two of us were wearing masks. I replied to her silent questioning by telling her my husband had a compromised immune system, which wasn’t too far from the truth. Her smile broadened as though she found relief in that information.

Lauderdale bridge
A view from our room. The intercoastal allows boats through and the bridge on the road has to open to let them pass.

We spent 3 1/2 days in sunny Fort Lauderdale, did a bit of shopping in my favorite department store, Macy’s, and spent some time at the pool. One night we headed down to the beachfront restaurants to one of our favorite places, H2O Restaurant for dinner and a stroll down the boardwalk shops. I was surprised to find the area wasn’t too busy with tourists, and mentioned it to one of the store owners who confirmed the season was relatively quiet this year and he added that he thought a lot of Canadians didn’t come down due to our lousy dollar and perhaps because of politics.

Lynn and Deb dining in Fort Lauderdale
Lynn and me dining in Fort Lauderdale

As we were about to finish our meal while dining outside, I heard what sounded like Frank Sinatra singing loud and clear in a microphone. I had to investigate, so I got up from the table and walked about 1/2 a block to find a man singing in a microphone with a loud speaker plugged into something of which I have no idea. He was singing away to anyone who would listen. Naturally I pulled out my phone and taped a minute of his performance. (Unfortunately, I can’t load it here.)

 

Friday morning we boarded the Celebrity Equinox and set sail around 4pm for the Caribbean and were to arrive in St. Thomas Monday morning at 7am. We spent the weekend at sea moving through the Atlantic ocean, which was sometimes a rocky ride, until we got into the Caribbean, when the rocking settled down and the sun became much hotter.

At sea

 

The 4 island ports our cruise stopped at were: St. Thomas, St. Kitts, Barbados, and St. Martin. We’ve been to these islands several times throughout the years and St. Martin is my favorite island. We no longer take excursion trips as we’ve done those when we first began cruising. Our cruises now are all about fun, sun, relaxation, and oh ya , . . shopping. All the islands have many beautiful beaches, but hub and I prefer to lounge at the pool rather than the beach. But our British friends spent some time on a few of the beaches and came back lobsterized (my word).

Docked in St. Thomas

Monday morning we docked in St. Thomas and scooted off to do a little port shopping in the Havensight duty free mall. I was surprised to find that although duty free, the prices had risen considerably. I did buy a silver necklace for my sister there but still nothing for myself.

St. Thomas Facts:

It’s a beautiful island with magnificent beaches, namely, Megan’s Bay. St. Thomas is one of 3 sister islands that make up the U.S. Virgin Islands, the other two are St. Croix and St. John. It is also the commercial trade capital of the Caribbean. In the 18th century, the island was a bustling hub for pirates, particularly Blackbeard and Drake who used the island to trade stolen wares.

St. Kitts port

Tuesday morning we docked in St, Kitts at 7am. I found myself waking at 6:30am every morning on the ship as soon as the sun began to rise and peeked through my cabin window curtain through the tiny crack where the drapes failed to meet. But that morning it wasn’t the sun that woke me, but the sound of motorcycles revving their engines.

I jumped out of bed wondering if I was dreaming of hearing motorcycles. Upon opening the patio door and stepping out onto my balcony, I saw a fleet of motorcycles and riders lined up on the cement pier, waiting to drive off onto the island.

Bikers on St. Kitts

Later, when I got into port, I noticed a Harley Davidson duty free store there. I also later discovered after meeting 2 of the lady bikers, they were from Toronto and had paid dearly to have their bikes stored on the ship just to ride through St. Kitts.

St. Kitts Facts:

Basseterre, St. Kitts is the capital of the Federation  of St. Kitts and Nevis, West Indies. It hosts gorgeous green hills, pink beaches, and dormant volcanoes. The island is relatively quiet and only a few years ago did they build a huge duty free port to attract cruise ships to generate tourist revenue.

Barbados

Wednesday we docked in Barbados. The photo above was taken from my cabin balcony facing the shipyard where they load imported cargo.

 

A shuttle bus pulls up to the ships at this port and takes passengers to the terminal where people can shop, grab a taxi into town, or meet up for their shore excursions. I haven’t gone into town for the last 2 visits here, and I find the island is more expensive than other places I’ve been. But my friend Lynn and I got on the shuttle bus just to visit one store we favor in the terminal where we always find interesting beach cover-ups. And of course I did find something I liked, And that was the only thing I’d purchased for myself yet on the cruise.

Barbados Facts:

Broad St. is the main drag in downtown Barbados. There are beautiful beaches as well, namely, Turtle beach, which my British friends love to spend the day at. There are also sugar cane plantations you can visit.

St. Martin port

 

And then we docked into beautiful Phillipsburg, St. Martin. St. Martin is an island split by 2 countries, France, and the Netherlands, Dutch Antilles. Depending on what side of the island you’re on it will be called Sint Maarten (Dutch) or Saint Martin (French).

 

Our ship was docking at 3pm and staying overnight till 5pm Friday. I was thrilled for the extended stay on my favorite island. I’d been to that island many times by cruise ship and for land holidays. The weather was gorgeous and the water is always many shades of turquoise. The people are friendly, and the food is delicious on the French side in Grand Case. And of course, the shopping is the best! The best duty free island of all. The Dutch side in particular is known for it’s spectacular array of jewelry stores at real wholesale prices.The main street is called Front St. (the Dutch side where the ships dock . . .naturally!). There you will find various shops of duty free stores among the rows of jewelry stores. It’s truly jewelry heaven for those who adore jewelry like me, and the dreaded island for many husbands, lol.

A short clip of what it sounds like when passengers get off a ship in the ports.

 

The shopkeepers know how to entertain as they try to keep you in their stores, knowing well that there is competition all around them. They serve you beer or virtually anything you want to drink, and even allow people to have a smoke in their store as they are deciding on their purchases.

 

Most of the jewelers are reputable. and some have sister stores on other islands. The trick to finding a good deal is to be savvy about the stores you’re buying in and be well versed in price values. You should have lots of patience and good bargaining skills, and NEVER take the first price you are given. I’ve had lots of practice through the years, and after my first few times of store hopping and doing price comparisons, I found my stores where I became loyal to, so I no longer had to store hop, combing the streets for comparison shopping.

 

I mention stores because through the years, I have changed jewelers a few times. One store we used to buy from got a new manager and didn’t recognize our business, which is usually stored in their computer. We felt like brand new customers who had to start over with negotiations and weren’t getting same good value. We also send many friends to these jewelers, which helps our own discounts considerably.

 

Another store we became clients for didn’t give us the same service because we hadn’t been there for two years, so we moved again. Then a few cruises ago, hub and I were strolling down Front St. where I spotted a fantastic ring in their window. We went in to have a look and wound up spending over an hour in there as my husband and I chatted with the shop owner and negotiated what I thought was an excellent price. But I wound up leaving it behind because I was afraid to take it home through customs. I never stopped kicking myself for leaving that beauty behind.

 

Fast forward to 2 years ago when we visited the island again, this time with zero intentions of buying anything. We were walking by that same store and I couldn’t believe that ring, or almost the same ring, was once again in the window. I took it as a sign. We went inside and 2 hours later, that ring was on my finger. I was basking in the glory of owning such a stunning ring, yet frightened about bringing it home. But I did.  And as always, I took it to my own jeweler for appraisal upon my return home and found that the ring was valued at 4 1/2 times more than I had paid for it. I knew we’d found our new store to shop in and send our friends to visit.

 

The store is named Zhaveri Jewelers and this family owned business has the nicest staff and gorgeous, unique jewlery. Shawn, Dee, Henna, Naaz, and Tony are all a pleasure to work with.

 

When we docked that afternoon, my friend Lynn had already visualized the ring she wanted to buy, she couldn’t wait till we took her to Zhaveri’s. We arrived at the store around 5pm, fully expecting the stores to stay opened till 8 or 9pm since we were the only overnight ship in town with 3000 passengers ready to shop, but found out the stores were closing at 6pm. I wasn’t planning on buying anything that trip, but we took Lynn, and within minutes she’d found her dream ring and my husband (known as the negotiator, terminator) went to work with Shawn, and within half an hour Lynn had her ring.

 

Of course, while Lynn was shopping, I, out of instinct perused the jewelry cases and cast my eye on the perfect ring for my index finger. Shawn gave me a quick, good price but I wasn’t about to make a purchase in half an hour on a ring I really didn’t need. I told him I’d sleep on it and come back in the morning. And I did both, and headed back to the ship with my new purchase the next day.

ring

 

As a seasoned shopper, I’d highly recommend anyone stopping by the island looking for a sparkly souvenir to drop in to Zhaveri Jewelers, and feel free to tell them I sent you, to make sure you get a good deal! And you will also get a free Tshirt and beach bag. Lol, this Tshirt came in handy when hubby ran out of clean Tshirts.

 

 

Tshirt

So back to the ship Lynn and I went. And just before we were approaching the ship’s pier, while walking through the duty free port, Lynn wipes out, landing on all fours. Her flip flop must have tripped up on an uneven slab of cement. It was nice to see around 6 tourists rush to her aid to see if she was okay and help pick her up as I collected her things. We sat on a bench for a bit so she could collect her composure, then we linked arms as she hobbled back to ship. Her arm was already beginning to swell as it took the brunt of her fall.

 

Later, Lynn went to the ship’s doctor. They gave her x-rays and told her it was sprained. She couldn’t move her arm for the duration of the next few days at sea on our return to Fort Lauderdale, but she had a beautiful ring.

 

The day after we returned home, Lynn went to the hospital with her ever swelling forearm and hand. She found out her elbow was indeed broken! She had a 4 hour surgery Thursday and now is the bionic woman with 2 pins and a plate, which were put in. She’ll be in a cast for a few weeks then who knows how long she’ll need therapy for. I might have heard the words ‘lawsuit’ whispered. But that, I’m sure will be another story.

 

 

Zhaveri team
Zhaveri team. Naaz and Shawn with Lynn and me.

 

St. Martin Facts:

The island is a total of 37 square miles. It’s the smallest land mass in the world shared by 2 nations, France and the Netherlands, Dutch Antilles by a treaty signed over 350 years ago. Residents and visitors can travel to either side without red tape or borders. Both sides host some of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean. I’ve stayed on the French side and the food along with the beaches in Grand Case are spectacular with equally beautiful views. The marina in Marigold, French side, is a beautiful place to visit and have a meal outdoors while watching the yachts pass by and dock, as well as having some beautiful European stores to visit.

 

I hope you’ve enjoyed the highlights of our beautiful Caribbean getaway. Thanks for taking the tour.