February 23, 2016

Shore Excursions & Exploring (Part 1)

While the cruise experience on the Carnival Liberty offered many on board activities, delicious food, and exceptional service per the previous post, the real action occurs at the ports of call! Swimming at beaches, exploring the nearby town (or even the entire island), and shopping are safe bets regardless of the island. To ensure you enjoy your Caribbean experience to the fullest, you will want to go on at least a couple of excursions offered by the cruise line. Since it’s easy to go financially overboard with these excursions, I will discuss a few of the ones I’ve done and would recommend to others.
One of the beaches at St. Kitts
1 – Scuba Diving

If there is one excursion you must do in the Caribbean at least once, it’s this! For those who haven’t done scuba diving before (including me before the cruise), various islands offer a “Discover Scuba” excursion to give you an introductory course and dive, which could then be used to continue pursuing a PADI certification when you get back home. I did this excursion at the Coki Dive Centre in St. Thomas; a 20 minute jitney ride from the cruise terminal. Our instructor (Luke) provided a 30 minute instruction to learn the basics before getting the gear such as flippers, goggles, air tank, pressure gauge, and breathing regulator. Once the gear was properly fitted, our group was brought into shallow water to practice essential skills such as recovering a loose regulator before going into deeper water. The dive last for about 45 minutes and was from 9 to 15 metres (30 to 50 feet) deep.
Dad and me scuba diving (via Coki Dive Centre's Facebook)
For someone new to diving like me, it felt slightly weird and there was some difficulty going deep. However, the instructor ensured everyone felt comfortable and it was amazing to be a lot closer to marine life than when snorkelling. The instructor also presented a crab like creature for our group to hold near the end of the dive. For those who already got their PADI certification, they could simply rent the equipment and dive. If I do get PADI certified in the future, one thing I would add to my shopping list is a waterproof SLR camera case to capture the vibrant marine life.

2 – Snorkelling
Snorkelling stop on the Jolly Roger
Unlike scuba diving, where instruction and heavy equipment are needed, all it takes to snorkel are goggles, air tube, and flippers. This could be done as part of an excursion or at a beach. Two excursions I went on featured snorkelling, the second of which was in St. Lucia’s Marigot Bay by the Pitons. That excursion involved being transported by boat with some scuba divers to two stops in marine preserves. Special care was needed to avoid kicking coral reefs, but there were fish of every colour, sea urchins, eels, and even coral snakes to see. I was told there was also octopus, but didn’t see any. Before St. Lucia, a different kind of snorkelling was done on the Jolly Roger.

3 – Jolly Roger
Jolly Roger just before boarding
One thing about the Caribbean is the glorification of pirates and nothing brings out the “y’arrr” more than the Jolly Rogers party cruise in Barbados! Some cannon sounds went off to kick off the ride and it was off to snorkel some shipwrecks. At least two ships could be seen underwater along with the fish during the 30 minute stop. A Caribbean style buffet lunch was then served before you walked that plank for more snorkelling and swimming. Sea turtles could be seen at the second stop. After swimming, it was time to responsibly enjoy some rum punch and beer, along with dancing on the upper deck. There was a conga line and even a pirate wedding on board! No wonder why Carnival indicated this excursion was one of the top picks.
Other Excursions

At St. Kitts, I did not do an excursion; instead opting for a cab ride around the island. Since Sint Maarten was the only port offering bike tours, that was my obvious choice. (more about it here)

Among the excursions I did not check out, the more popular ones available from Carnival include catamaran rides, ziplining, kayaking, horseback riding, swimming with dolphins and sea turtles, and food and rum tastings. They also organized island highlight excursions, though you would probably be better off hailing a cab for an island tour.

To continue this three part series, Part 2 will discuss exploring the islands while Part 3 will focus solely on Puerto Rico.

Explore away!
Rob Z (e-mail)

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