Martinique, C’est Bon!
Thursday, December 17, 2015
This morning, Star Clippers’ Royal Clipper got in touch with her European heritage – all without ever leaving the Caribbean.
Just after 0800, we came alongside Fort-de-France, Martinique; a slice of both European and French influence in the Caribbean. Martinique is the largest of the Windward Islands, but it is also part of the European Union. Accordingly, the currency you’ll need ashore is the Euro (€). Didn’t bring any? No problem; there are several bankomat (ATM) machines located throughout Fort-de-France.
Our time here was regrettably short. Fort-de-France is the most interesting port in the Caribbean that I’ve come across lately. From the moment you step off your ship onto the pier, painted in vibrant and tropical colours, you’ll feel like you’ve entered a different world. It’s as unique in the Caribbean – much of which is overrun by shops catering soely to American tourists – you can get without visiting Cuba.
Much of Fort-de-France is in a period of flux; you can see amazing examples of modernist European architecture next to colonial buildings and run-down buildings of convenience; structures that were hastily thrown up during the past century. Even the city’s lone McDonalds looks interesting.
Off to the right of the cruise pier is the imposing Fort, but just adjacent to it is a gorgeous city park known as La Savane. If you like a quiet walk or are up for a jog, this 12-acre park is just what the doctor ordered. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the gorgeously art deco Hotel L’Imperatrice directly across from La Savane serves up a mean cappuccino.
Since we had to be back onboard by 1130 to make our Noon departure, I busied myself running through the congested streets of the city. I passed French automobiles, all bearing the standard European Union license plate with the white “F” for France printed against a blue background on the extreme left. I passed stores selling French fashions. Some of the shops here are remarkably high-end, with brands like Lacoste, Mont Blanc, and others represented. Forget your sunscreen? Look for the electric green pharmacy sign outside shops on the street- just like in France.
But, since this is the Caribbean – and the land of spice in particular – expect a healthy dose of Creole cuisine, alluring spices and scents wafting through the air, and local beverages. In short, it’s everything that Grenada is, spiced up with European influence.
If we were here longer, we could have taken a side-trip to Mount Pelee, which completely buried the city of St-Pierre when it erupted on May 8, 1902. Prior to the eruption, St-Pierre was one of the Caribbean’s most modern cities. It had phones, electricity, and a tram, and up to 30 ships would call here on a single day. When Mount Pelee erupted, however, the town was buried with ash in under two minutes. In that time, 30,000 inhabitants were vaporized instantly.
The cruise pier in Fort-de-France can support two cruise ships of intermediate length, and bouys mark the location of offshore anchorages. And yet, Royal Clipper was the only ship in port. How this hasn’t become a mecca of Caribbean cruising is beyond me; I’d come here over St. Thomas any day.
Of course, I may be the minority – many cruisers just want to head straight for the beach. For those people, I have excellent news: Royal Clipper set sail at Noon on-the-dot and charted a course for the small beachside village of Anse D’Arlet, Martinique.
While we sailed, lunch was served up on deck at the Tropical Bar; a unique change from the usual buffet lunch served in the Clipper Dining Room. It gives me another excuse to rave about the food onboard, which has been surprisingly good. Lunches and dinners feature a blend of meals designed to appeal to both Europeans and North Americans, but with local options and spices included.
By 1400, Royal Clipper dropped her portside anchor and came to rest in the bay adjacent to Anse D’Arlet. Roughly the same size as Bequia, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, Anse D’Arlet is set up in a similar fashion: a horseshoe beach runs for a few kilometres in either direction of the pier, which is surrounded by private sailing vessels. A small assortment of restaurants and beachfront bars runs adjacent to the beach, encouraging visitors to linger.
I went ashore briefly and ordered a Lorraine, the local blonde beer brewed in Martinique. It’s very drinkable but otherwise unremarkable from other Caribbean brews. I was more excited to see the Kronenberg 1664 Blanc on the menu, but the bar I’d ambled up to was out of it. Also on the menu were the usual assortment of Becks, Carib, and Corona, though my favorite Red Stripe beer, brewed in Jamaica, was nowhere to be found. Still, for the hardcore beer aficionado (or the aspiring writer), a tall pint of the Lorraine will get the job done.
After an hour or so ashore, I tendered back to the Royal Clipper to spend an enjoyable evening onboard. I ordered the Cocktail of the Day – a highly-drinkable Margarita – and enjoyed the cool ocean breeze that swept across the Tropical Bar. If anything, this is one of Star Clipper’s strong points: their ships have a tangible connection with the sea, both inside and out.
This evening, the Captain’s Farewell Dinner was held, along with our Disembarkation Briefing with Cruise Director Cathleen. I particularly enjoyed how the briefing was conducted first for guests in German, and then continued 15 minutes later for the English-speaking guests. This ensured guests’ time wasn’t wasted waiting for translations in two different languages.
The Captain’s Farewell Dinner was the grand event you’d expect, complete with a flute of complimentary champagne (well, sparkling wine, probably), and the traditional Baked Alaska parade. I don’t know how Baked Alaska became a staple of modern cruising, but it’s been around for as long as The Love Boat.
This evening following dinner, the Guest Talent Show was held outdoors at the Tropical Bar. The Margaritas hadn’t kicked in for most guests, regrettably, so the Guest Talent Show became the Crew Talent Show. The crew were game for it, though, and performed a variety of cool (and sometimes bizarre) acts for the entertainment of their passengers. It reminded me a bit of the Crew Talent Night that Holland America Line holds on their cruises once per week, which are always standing-room only. I’d almost recommend that Star Clippers make the crew a regular feature if guest participation is consistently low on most voyages.
When I returned to my stateroom tonight, Royal Clipper was rockin’ and rollin’ her way through the Caribbean Sea. It sounded like someone was jumping repeatedly on the floor above me, until I realized the sound was being made by the bow of the ship bottoming out on swells as she made her way to St. Lucia, our final port of call tomorrow.
I crawled into my bed and wrapped myself under the duvet, and let the motion of the ocean do the rest.