This four-part guest post is presented by Lew Toulmin, Ph.D., F.R.G.S. and Avid Cruiser.
So far, I have introduced you to Holland America Line’s Noordam, and I’ve told you about the dining venues and food on the ship. In this post, I will cover the two main passages we took, and five of the islands visited by Noordam during a cruise to the southern Caribbean.
An unusual attraction of the Noordam’s route was the opportunity to sail through two of the most important passages in the Caribbean. Heading south to the ABC islands we passed through the famous Mona Passage, between Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. On the way north, we passed through the equally famous Windward Passage, between Haiti and Cuba. It was a thrill to sail through these strategic passages known to Columbus, buccaneers, pirates, Lord Nelson and his original “band of brothers,” Hemingway and many others, and to get to see the beautiful, rugged coastlines of all the Greater Antilles.
Highlights of our island visits include the following in sequential order; each visit was usually six to ten hours.
On Half Moon Key, HAL’s private island in the Bahamas, we tendered ashore and explored the exclusive resort. This 2×5-mile islet has a small manmade port that can accommodate tenders from three HAL ships at once, walking trail 6/10 of a mile long, wide beach with glorious white sand, horse stable, jet-ski rental, pet-the-stingrays attraction, island chapel, bar in the form of a wrecked pirate ship, large BBQ area, and beautiful sea-oats, orchids and bougainvillea. I asked one of the local HAL staffers how many islanders lived on the Key, and she said with a smile, “Only 38, and we all work together, so we know each other very well!”
On Grand Turk island, part of the Turks and Caicos (a British Crown Colony), we searched for and found over two pounds of beautiful sea glass. This was on the beach just south of the Osprey Hotel, three miles north of the cruise ship terminal. This location yielded the common light green, brown and blue glass, and some rare black and blackish-green pieces. The taxi fare from the ship to the Osprey was a modest $5.
Back at the cruise port, at the Dizzy Donkey shop, we ran into Diane Page, a jewelry designer who got us started looking for sea glass years ago. Diane took our finds and in just five minutes, using silver wire, created matching green sea glass earrings for Susan. (See www.dianepage.com and www.internationalseaglassmuseum.com for information on this unusual ocean-related pastime.)
At Samana in the Dominican Republic, we took the ship’s tour ($54 each) to the whale museum and the Taino museum. The former was quite small and had few exhibits with just some simple placards. But the latter was well worth visiting, with more than 30 life-sized dioramas presenting Taino history before and after contact with Columbus.
The Tainos were a branch of the Arawak Indians, and led a peaceful, agricultural life on the islands before 1492. The new museum, which opened in late 2011, featured excellent Apple iPod Nano listening devices in English that allowed the viewer to proceed at his own pace through the shaded dioramas.
Bonaire surprised us and was our favorite island of the trip, mainly because it was so unpopulated, rural and quiet. Our three hour “Island Journey” tour ($66 each) was led by an excellent guide, Marielle, who showed us iguanas, flamingos, parakeets, parrots, orioles, turk’s head cacti, and other flora and fauna. The island was dry and windswept, as are all the ABC Dutch islands, and the main “industry” was scuba diving.
At the city market in Kralendijk near the ship, we bought some delightful Indonesian grilled chicken, noodles and rice with a soft drink at an open air stand, for only $8 for a two-person portion. (All the islands we visited take US dollars as either the official or as an unofficial currency.) The GIO shop on the main street to the left of the cruise terminal offered terrific gelato for a reasonable price.
Curaçao was much more industrial, with port operations and oil refining playing a more important role in the island’s economy than tourism. We took a ship’s tour ($44 each) to the Hato Cave, and found it to be rather small and humid after the large caves we have toured in other countries. But the walk around downtown Willemstad was worthwhile, with our guide pointing out shops certified by the HAL shopping quality-control program. Many of these featured tanzanite, a beautiful lavender stone that is produced in only one mine in the world, in a remote part of Tanzania. These were tempting, but at $850 per carat asking price and a possible $500 per carat “final price,” we reluctantly took a pass.
Other highlights of Willemstad were the excellent nautical museum and the amazing “Old Swinging Lady” bridge. This bridge, built in 1888, has its own marine engines and propellers and drives itself back and forth like a swinging gate, to let ships through the narrow harbor entrance.
In the next post, I will conclude the review of Noordam’s voyage with a visit to Aruba.