By WALLACE IMMEN
All right, so you’re an experienced Caribbean cruiser.
You’ve docked in places like Phillpsburg and Bridgetown so many times you qualify for frequent visitor status. You’ve slathered yourself in sun lotion on more palm-lined beaches than Columbus ever claimed. But I bet there are still big gaps in your Caribbean life list; places that hardly ever show up in cruise itineraries. Maybe it’s time to look into some islands off the well-churned cruise routes that are places that can only be visited by smaller ships. The experience is sure to be one that won’t have our friends saying “been there, done that.”
There are some that say Bequia (pronounced beck-way) lost its innocence 20 years ago when they built a little airport on this green dot in the southern Caribbean that previously was being visited by only a handful of sailboats at a time. But compared to many other islands in the southern Caribbean it’s still pristinely authentic, with its restaurants serving freshly caught fish and lobster and locals who have plenty of time to strike up conversations with cruise visitors. The beaches are gorgeous and expansive as well. Only small ships can get into shallow Admiralty Bay, so even at the odd time when two ships arrive on the same day and set up beach barbecues, there’s no sense of crowding.
Carriacou is definitely a connoisseur’s stop, with miles of uninhabited white sand beaches and gorgeous coral reefs for those who can get to the island in the first place. It’s only accessible to relatively small ships because the water around the island is shallow — which makes the sea gorgeously blue because the sunlight reflects from the white sand on the bottom. Some passengers doing a port stop in Grenada take a catamaran water taxi to the island and it can be a bumpy ride because the current sweeps around an undersea volcano aptly nicknamed “Kick Em Jenny” that makes the water choppy.
Who visits: Sea Dream Yacht Club; local sail boats and motor launches from Grenada
Montserrat is a lush green island in the northeastern Caribbean that was an up and coming cruise port attracting a well-heeled clientele of vacationers when its Soufriere Hills volcano erupted in 1995 and again in 1997. Fortunately the resiidents had been evacuated to the other side of the island or to nearby Antigua before the capital city of Plymouth was buried by ash like a modern-day Pompeii.
Two thirds of the island remain a no-go zone for tourists. But, the island is attracting tourists again to its unique black sand beaches and divers to its reefs. There’s a lot of development happening around Little Bay Town, where the few ships that have the island on their itineraries now pull in.
Who visits: Sea Dream Yacht Club, Silversea Cruises
Saba is really rare on cruise itineraries because the Dutch Antilles island is literally a steep-sided volcanic peak. It’s such a long way to the bottom that ships can’t anchor so they have to drift offshore while passengers go in to the island by tender. But those who do make it in will be amply rewarded. There’s no traffic on the roads and only a handful of people hiking the nature trails. Scuba divers are attracted to the off-shore marine park that’s a sanctuary for endangered turtles. There are four villages with a scattering of tiny wooden houses and the laid-back residents see so few outsiders that they are eager to find out where you’re from. It’s definitely one to put on your life to do list.
Who visits: SeaDream Yacht Club; Seabourn Cruises; Star Clippers
If you get an opportunity to add St. Eustatius to your life list, it will put you one up on almost everyone. It’s not on itineraries of the major cruise lines because it’s difficult to reach and there’s no shopping to be had ashore. Its few inhabitants are living a life virtually unchanged from the time when sails were the only source of power for ships. Arriving by tender at its ramshackle and quiet dock today, it’s difficult to believe that 250 years ago, this was one of the most bustling ports of the Caribbean, with 20,00 residents, many make rich by being willing to trade whatever anybody needed—slaves, guns or duty free tea and sugar.
A major trading center for the Dutch East India Company in the 1700s, the coast of Oranjestad was lined with docks and warehouses. It was in the right place at the right time to help the rebellious colonies in North America in their dispute with Britain. The Dutch traders could sail around the British navy, and they provided weapons and even mail service to Europe for Americans. Those were glory days, but unfortunately they couldn’t last. Statia’s support of the rebellion ultimately led to bad blood between Great Britain and the island’s Dutch masters, and the British admiral George Rodney decided to sack the port in 1781.
Perhaps fortuitously, the robber barons decided to move on rather than rebuild, leaving Statia as a haven of quiet and unspoiled nature. There are no big hotels here, no chain restaurants, no traffic, just a remarkable historic fort, flocks of birds and a small population of people who consider everyone who finds their way to their shores friends. That’s the original Facebook.
Who visits: Grand Mariner (Great Lakes Cruise Co.); live-aboard dive boats.