Friday, May 1, 2009

Pirates of Nassau

Pirates have been synonymous with the Caribbean for years now, and this perception was no doubt boosted by Disney's popular Pirates of the Caribbean movie franchise.

Nassau, the capital city of the Bahamas, is home to one of the many homages to (former) pirate life--Pirates of Nassau.

Pirates of Nassau museum downtown Nassau

Located at the corner of King and George streets, Pirates of Nassau is a museum and gift store that was opened in 1998. It is one of the largest pirate museums in the world, and is a convenient ten minutes from the cruise ship pier.

By all means, if you enjoyed Pirates of the Caribbean or simply enjoy pirate lore even slightly, try to visit. The museum is highly informative and, while it does not have a large amount of actual artifacts, it has a "to scale" (Is it? Well, I've never seen a real pirate ship, so I couldn't honestly tell you) pirate ship inside!

Nassau - Pirate Museum

Apparently, during the heyday of the pirate, Nassau was one of the most important ports for the common pirate. Thus, there's a lot to say here--both concerning Nassau's role and otherwise.

Much of the content concerns pirate lore rather than artifacts. The museum makes much use of mannequins for this task. This is one of the aspects I remember most about the museum when I visited. The mannequins are sufficiently designed--nothing exceedingly creepy for the kids.

An extensive gift shop can be found at the end of the museum tour. It's got some nice stuff, though honestly nothing exceedingly different than you might find elsewhere in the Caribbean. Still worth a gander, though!

The museum opens early (9 a.m.) and closes at around the time when most ships will be leaving the port of Nassau (6 p.m.), with a closing time of noon on Sundays. Prices run at $12 for adults and $6 for ages 4-17.

For more information, visit Pirates of Nassau's main website.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Castillo San Cristobal and El Morro

I love San Juan. There's nothing like going on a cruise and visiting a place that is at least somewhat similar to your homeland. I mean, sure, not everyone speaks English all the time, but the sheer knowledge that one is in a United States territory is slightly comforting.

Probably my favorite places to visit while in San Juan are situated along the water--massive structures that are easily visible as ships enter the pier.

Castillo San Cristobal Y Puerto Rico Capital
Castillo San Cristobal

El Castillo San Felipe del Morro
El Morro

Forts have always been an interesting thing to visit in general for me, but these two are without a doubt my favorites--and they're situated practically a stone's throw from one another!

San Cristobal and El Morro have both been around for a long time--El Morro since the 1500s, and San Cristobal a century later. Both were constructed during the Spanish reign over the isle of Puerto Rico, and each served a distinct purpose: El Morro was designed to protect against attacks from sea, while San Cristobal was to guard attacks from land.

Both are, of course, still standing today and are operated by the U.S. National Park Service. They are both easily reachable from the cruise ship pier, and a drive from, say, the airport, will only take ten minutes barring any traffic.

View Larger Map
Both forts can be seen here: El Morro in the left corner, and San Cristobal on the right, at about mid-picture.

There is a price for entry. Adults 16 and older must pay $3 per fort, or can pay $5 for both forts. Children 15 and younger are absolutely free!

Much of both forts are open to the public. San Cristobal makes great use of its tunnels and has some fantastic views from atop the fort, especially of the pier--this makes for a fantastic photo opportunity. El Morro also makes amazing use of tunnels and inside areas, and has some brilliant views in its own right.

71 Looking down on the Port from the Walls of Fort San Cristobal Old San Juan 11-25-08
View of cruise ship pier from San Cristobal

America put a hole here with a battleship in 1898
One of the inside areas of El Morro... apparently, good ol' America put plenty of holes in this area with cannon fire and what not

For more information, visit ... it's a very good site to learn more about the area.

Whenever you're in San Juan, I have to say... do NOT miss these places. Try, at least, to visit one of them (I recommend San Cristobal)... Old San Juan has some amazing places to see, but these very well may take the cake. A can't-miss for anyone even vaguely interested in forts!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Labadee, Haiti

It is no secret that some cruise lines actually own islands in the Caribbean. Catalina Island in the Dominican Republic has been visited by ships from the Celebrity and Costa lines, and Royal Caribbean has owned Coco Cay in the Berry Islands section of the Bahamas for years now.

Probably the most notable of these private resorts is the peninsula of Labadee, located in the nation of Haiti, on the island of Hispaniola.

Labadee has been under Royal Caribbean ownership for over twenty years now, and this should not change anytime soon. Labadee has actually contributed the most tourist revenue to the Haitian government since its inception as a Caribbean resort. It employs hundreds of locals, while hundreds more are allowed onto the property as vendors for their own goods.

The wall of for-sale art near the market
(taken from

Many of Royal Caribbean's ships will visit this port, especially the larger ships. This is, for now, the only way to visit the resort. It is treated like most other ports of call in that the ship will arrive in the morning and will leave late in the afternoon or early in the evening.

At the time of writing, cruisers must tender in to the resort by boat. However, it has been reported that a brand new pier, complete with a dock, will be completed in late 2009. The dock will be large enough to service Royal Caribbean's new Oasis of the Seas ship, meaning that it will be plenty long.

Once in the resort, there really are a plethora of activities to take part in. An 'authentic' Haitian flea market, which will undoubtedly be one of the most frightening experiences of your life if you are are not physically and mentally prepared for it, is one of the main draws, with locals selling many handcrafted goods--the prices of which may change from one second to the next, depending on your bartering spirit.

A zip line--billed as the longest zip line over water in the world--is one of the main draws. If you've ever actually wanted to set foot in a non-private part of Haiti, know that the path to this attraction (you'll be in a truck/van/jeep/some sort of transportation) actually extends outside the boundaries of Labadee. As such, many large guns will be witnessed; every guard has them. The zip line must be booked through Royal Caribbean, and note that it is weather permitting--strong winds are a no-no.

zip line tower in labadee
See that big old structure atop the hill? You'll be starting from up there. Trust me,
it's really not that bad... I don't think anyone's actually died yet. Just don't mess
with the guards and their large guns.

For the less-daring vacationer, Labadee has multiple beaches for one to lie upon, as well as some prime snorkeling areas. Another popular point of interest is Dragon's Breath Point, at the end of the zip line. The formation of rocks not only happens to have a formation similar to the head of a dragon, but this as well:

Get it? It's like the dragon is breathing! Ohohoho. Actually, this is pretty cool.

A buffet lunch is provided free of charge for all visitors, which is of course one of the best parts of the day. Granted, the food may not be strikingly different from what one would receive for lunch on the ship (with a few exceptions), but it's the thought that counts.

The peninsula is gorgeous; there is a multitude of photo opportunities. Ruins of buildings from the last inhabitants (it is assumed, unless Royal Caribbean just planted them there) are also visible along some decent walking trails (one of which you WILL need some type of shoe for. You've been warned.).

As mentioned earlier, the only way to visit this pleasant escape is by Royal Caribbean. But all and all, it is a very nice place; a great way to unwind and to get off the ship without having to worry about taxis and island tours.

Labadee 3

Monday, March 30, 2009

The Legend of Big Black Dick

So clearly there has not been a post here in quite some time. This particular quarter of college has taken its toll on me in terms of free time, so I haven't had much time at all to be updating this blog. I'm hoping that this will mark my return to at least a bit more updating than I had been doing.

I've been to the Cayman Islands twice, both times to the main island of Grand Cayman. My family traveled to multiple places during each stay, but we always saved some time for the various shops and buildings of the capital city of George Town.

view of George Town, Grand cayman from our lunch table
(taken from

At one spot in particular along the streets of George Town is a place known as the Pirate's Grotto. Located in the basement of the Landmark Building on at the corner of Harbour Drive and Landmark Avenue, the Pirate's Grotto is easily spotted due to the large, smiling pirate standing outside, as evidenced by the below photo:

Big Black Dicks Rum
(once again, taken from

As evidenced by the sign placed near his leg, Big Black Dick is not just any pirate... he's a rum-selling pirate!

Rum or not, the story goes like this, according to accounts by those who still carry on his tradition:

"It is believed that Big Black Dick was born of 'Royal' African parentage before being kidnapped by French slavers who gave him the name of "Richard Le Noir". Unable to subdue his efforts to regain his freedom, his French captors, tossed Richard overboard near a Caribbean island, which may have been Grand Cayman Island.

Miraculously reaching land, he served for several years labouring in a sugar cae field where he learned the secrets of how to turn the sugar cane into the Caribbean's finest rum. His kindly Caymanian master recognizing his hard work and hoensty awarded him his freedom in the early 1700's.

A free man and a skilled seaman, Dick tossed away his French name and became known as Big Black Dick. He soon earned the rank of captain of a three-masted-square rigger named "Caymanus". She was a ship carrying 20 cannons with a crew of near 200 men that were known as the best in the Caribbean.

History tells us that "Big Black Dick" was a dashing and handsome figure of a man, wearing a bright purple velvet coat and four pistols in his red silk sash. Those who knew him most immediately, know how much of a man he, indeed, was... possessing certain physical attributes unequaled by most 'all' other men of his gender.

After a successful career, Big Black Dick retired to a more peaceful venture of making the best original pirate rum in the Caribbean."

Tell me that's not the greatest biography in the world! It (and its variations) can be found on the label of most Big Black Dick products, if you ever need a good laugh at a party.

Big Black Dick's products can be found various places on the island, but Pirate's Grotto is probably the most notable and popular of these places. Head downstairs and you will find an assortment of Caribbean souvenirs, most of which are not BBD-related (but still pretty great--Tortuga Rum Cake being a prime example).

The main draw is BBD's rum, of which I really cannot form an opinion as I was not of legal drinking age at last visit. I assume it is rather good, but let's face it: when you're in the Caribbean, just about anything you drink is going to taste better, whether it is actually different or not.

BBD also decided to try his hand at hot sauce making. As one slogan on one particular bottle states, "You'll suck the meat right off the bone!" I have sampled various different sauces of Big Black Dick's, and they are highly satisfying.

Visit for more info. Some items can be purchased over the internet, though not the rum itself. Therefore, a trip to Grand Cayman is undoubtedly in order should you find this rum appealing! I mean, how else could you possibly utter the words "Gee, honey, you're looking a bit down today... how about some Big Black Dick?" Nowhere!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Magens Bay, St. Thomas

I thought I'd start off with something that most people likely know about, but something that I really cannot avoid if I am writing a blog on Caribbean travel. I speak of Magens Bay (on the island of Saint Thomas, in the US Virgin Islands), considered by many to be one of, if not THE best beach in the world.

What can I say on the matter?

Well, it certainly is one of the best beaches I've visited in the Caribbean, if only for the scenery. St. Thomas is well-known for possessing breathtaking scenery and dazzling, brilliant blue water. Combine those two things together and what do you get?

Magens Bay
(taken from

I dare you to tell me that that beach there does not look spectacular.

Now for the Google Earth view:

View Larger Map

So really, an expansive area.

Magens Bay is truly a spectacular place. I can say this from experience, having been there before in my life and really enjoying it. If one is traveling to St. Thomas, it is certainly a popular destination and, to some, a can't-miss attraction--especially if one has multiple days to spend on the island.

However, keep that very thing in mind: it's a very popular destination. If one is coming in to St. Thomas by ship, expect the beach to be packed that day. Given that, the beach is quite large, so beachgoers shouldn't have too much of a problem finding a place to camp out.

Magens Bay DOES have a cost for entry as well. For non-island residents, it is $4 for adults, $2 for children 13 and older, and free for children 12 and younger. There is also a $2 parking charge should beachgoers be driving (although if one is coming via cruise ship, this would not apply). Taxis are always available to the beach, and some island tours will also stop at the beach.

In addition to the beach, nature trails, an arboreteum and kayak rental is also available.

The beach is open daily from 8-5. For a list of rules and regulations, as well as other information about the beach, feel free to visit !

A pretty good video of Magens Bay; I think it captures the essence of the beach quite nicely:

Those who are thinking of visiting on their next cruise should consult with their cruise line for more information about possible tours heading to the beach, or you can look up many locally-owned tours that generally travel to the island! Some tours include Ali and Sons, Godfrey Tours V.I. and Air Force 1 Island Tours, to name a few. However, many people can merely catch a taxi to the beach; there are always plenty of taxis around. The beach is not within walking distance of Charlotte Amalie, so that is out of the question.

So, here's how it's going to go down...

"The chief character in this narrative is the Caribbean Sea, one of the world's most alluring bodies of water, a rare gem among the oceans, defined by the islands that form a chain of lovely jewels to the north and east." ~ James Michener

Now, if I can be perfectly honest, I've never really enjoyed the works of James Michener, but I liked that quote. One could say that it explains what you are about to witness here, as well: the Caribbean Sea, our chief character.

(Photo credit: stgrundy,, 2008)

Nice picture, right?

I thought so too.


I have been highly interested in the Caribbean ever since I took my first trip there at the age of 10, when I embarked on the Enchantment of the Seas with my family in 2000. Since that trip, I have been on six other cruises, each time becoming more and more infatuated with the islands of the Caribbean and the travel industry in general.

I came into college a few months ago as a journalism major who didn't really know what he wanted to do with his degree once (or, dare I say it, if) he got it. To this day, I still don't know the answer to that, but I think I'm starting to get a better idea of what I'd like to do.

One day in my Journalism 101 course, my professor told all of us that we should consider creating our own blog. While at the time I was not considering making this blog, I did make another that was a general blog for all pieces of news. However, I didn't have much interest in it. Therefore, I made three posts and haven't gone back since.

Recently, I got into looking at and researching the Caribbean extensively on Google Earth, Wikipedia, and elsewhere. A few weeks ago, I decided that perhaps I could write a blog about my findings; after all, the blog would for once be about something I enjoy, and perhaps it could somehow benefit others and better inform them about different aspects of the Caribbean.

At the very least, this blog can be something that I can point to when I am trying to get a job later on in life in order to say, "See? I was blogging!"

I may start tonight with my entries, if not tomorrow. It depends on whether or not I find anything else to do tonight.

Thank you for sticking it out through my rambling. Trust me- after this, the blog shall finally begin to take a specific theme.