Tag Archives: Celebrity Summit

Island Paradise in St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands

The last stop aboard the Summit on our week-long cruise was in the US Virgin Islands (USVI), St. Thomas, the largest of the US islands. Celebrity truly saved the best for last and better yet, this gem belongs in the States! The port where we landed was Charlotte Amalie, the capital of the USVI. There are a handful of high-end boutique shops, but not much else nearby. The main attractions are either Megan’s Bay or Trunk Bay (on St. John). We opted to take a Celebrity excursion tour to St. John, about 30 minutes away from the ship. It’s well worth it to pay a few extra dollars to take the ship’s excursion so they guarantee that you be back to the ship before it departs. St. John is also fairly easily accessible by a public ferry that run between the two islands.

IMG_0325Our tour lead us through the Caribbean Sea to Cruz Bay. The guides were knowledgeable about the history and pointed out significant historical landmarks along the way such as where Christopher Columbus crash landed in the “new world” and who owns what pristine ocean-view property. The captain also mentioned how the USVI was purchased from Denmark for $25M in gold in 1917, coincidentally the first time the US went into debt. With the view and pristine beauty of the islands, I’d say it was absolutely worth!

 

 Once you get to Cruz Bay, there are several open-air taxis (jeeps) waiting to take you into the Virgin Islands National Park that encompasses most of the island. Before the park was established, there were a few residences established and they have since been grandfathered making them very valuable to own and rent. The island is mostly undisturbed and the roads are never have any traffic (definitely another win for this Caribbean destination). The main street (North Shore Rd) winds through the northern edge of St. John and has lookouts along the way that the taxi stopped allowing us ample time to snap some breathtaking photos of the view.

 

Cruz Bay
Cruz Bay
Caneel Bay
Caneel Bay
Your wedding here for $20,000 a day, if you can find an opening in their calendar.
Your wedding here for $20,000 a day, if you can find an opening in their calendar.

At the top of the first hill overlooks Cruz Bay where our boat dropped us off. I didn’t realize how much color and how beautiful it was. Taking a step back to take it all in is quite special. The next overlook was Caneel Bay. A private beach that hosts weddings for a bargain price of $20,000 to rent for the day.

Panorama of the vista overlook
Panorama of the vista overlook
Trunk Bay
Trunk Bay

The last overlook contained the million dollar view that we had been waiting for all week, actually, salivating over for weeks prior to the trip. Words cannot comprehend just how incredible the view is of Trunk Bay.

As much as I would have loved to sit there and take it in for the rest of the day, the driver beckoned us back into the car and we were off to swim in the bay.

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Map of the underwater snorkel trail.

Admission for the day is $4, kids under 16 are free. They have plenty of showers, restrooms, and changing areas to use. The beach itself is a narrow stretch of soft sand. There is some shade under the trees towards the back of the beach. Oddly enough, it rained while we were on the beach and we found ourselves taking cover under the trees to prevent from getting wet … on the beach. After a quick shower silliness, we went snorkeling for the rest of the afternoon and it turned out to be a perfect day.

The water in Trunk Bay was the clearest all week and the area was teeming with aquatic life. Thus far, I hadn’t been too impressed with the fish, coral, and clarity of the Caribbean, but this day really made the trip. I’ve only gone snorkeling in the Western Caribbean where there wasn’t many fish either and Phuket, Thailand where the water was extremely clear and abundant with life. To be fair, the Caribbean is known for its beaches and not it’s snorkeling.

 

 The park has an underwater trail that you can follow that leads you around the aquatic life and points out some of the interesting coral formations. The bay itself is well enclosed on the sides and there’s a small island to prevent it from getting too wavy. It’s definitely a great area for beginners.

 I turned around and this guy was swimming straight at me and scared the crap out of me.

I turned around and this guy was swimming straight at me and scared the crap out of me.

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The afternoon quickly came to a close as it was time to start heading back to the ship. On the way back, I snapped this gem of the top of the taxis. It adequately sums up island living. On the boat back to the ship, it started getting cloudy and rained again. We were lucky to have spent most of the day out of the rain!

Going Dutch on the island St. Maarten

The next port of call was the Dutch/French island of Sint Maarten / Saint Martin depending on which side you visit. Ships usually all dock on the southern point of the island on the Dutch side in Phillipsburg. St. Maarten is a highly developed and commercialized island. Out of the entire trip, I would say it has the most development in thanks due to its famous international airport, strong European influence, and that it’s a very popular cruise destination. It’s also home to one of the top Caribbean medical schools, AUC.

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The day we arrived, there were at least 3 other giant vessels – Princess’s flagship vessel, the Royal Princess, Royal Caribbean’s Freedom of the Seas, and the MSC Musica Four large ships is not unheard of for such a busy port. In fact, it’s a relatively lighter day since the port can handle up to six to seven large cruise liners. It’s usually best to consult the Cruise TT timetable while planning your trip to gauge how crowded the islands are upon your arrival.

Getting around the island is easy. English is widely spoken and people are friendly, almost too friendly (more on that in a second). The island is so commercialized and developed that it makes for doing your own self-guided tour a breeze without booking an excursion through the ship, hence the going Dutch title. We wanted to visit the western part of the island and had planned to take a public bus from Phillipsburg to Mullet Beach. And by bus, I mean minivan the size of an airport shuttle. Walking the city streets, there are no officially designated bus stops, you just have to flag down the right van going to where you want to go. We were able to hail and empty one and hopped in. The fare was a very reasonable $4 USD for the two of us, each way. We were the first on, but definitely not the last. As we drove across the island, it quickly filled up. There were three rows of seating and each became filled with four passengers. With the driver, we had fourteen people in this little van. It was a tight squeeze under the warm sun, but somehow we all fit and everyone was able to make it to their destinations. People getting on and off would also be extremely courteous, greeting each other on the way and helping people coming on and off.

DSCN0592When we got to the Mullet Beach area, we wanted to see AUC which was nearby so we walked through a golf course and up a hill leading up to the school. Being the week before Christmas, the school was deserted and we weren’t able to go in to take a look around. From the top of the hill, the school overlooks a large part of the island and the gorgeous waters of Saint Maarten. It definitely looks like a beautiful place to study medicine.

Walking back down, we passed a beautiful rocky overlook and walked down to Mullet Beach. This beach is relatively more remote and less known than Orient Bay on the French side, which draws huge crowds every time. The people on the beach were mostly locals and people staying at nearby hotels, so cruise traffic was definitely at a minimum. We were able to find a nice mangrove tree on the eastern end of the beach to take shelter. The beach itself is very well protected because it is not facing the open Atlantic side and the water is clear and there were many schools of fish. You can swim 10 feet off shore and follow the rocks as the fish are just congregating around the coral and rock structures.

Mullet Beach

After a couple hours of relaxing on the beach, we wanted to make our way over to the iconic SXM, Princess Juliana International Airport. What makes it famous is that at the end of the single runway (Runway 10) is a small sandy beach, Maho Beach. Every day, hundreds of tourists flock to watch landing after landing of commercial and cargo planes land just feet from the beach. Since we spent too much time on the beach, we missed one of the 747 landings for the day, but we did see many other planes come and go.

Google maps view of SXM
Google maps view of SXM
There's a caution sign for a reason.
There’s a caution sign for a reason.

It’s really something to be standing so close to planes landing just overhead. The pictures speak for themselves as the experience is like no other. The planes come so close to the beach that the bigger ones commonly cause a wake on the water and generate some large waves. Similarly, planes taking off can create an immense amount of thrust that they blow sand and crazy tourists down the beach. There are caution signs all around warning of the blast from these aircraft, but tourists being tourist ignore these warnings and try to get as close as possible and brace the takeoffs. We made such a mistake and let’s just say it will never happen again.

On one takeoff by an InselAir MD-83, we could see the pilots happily waving back at all the screaming crowd as the plane made its final turn onto the runway. The plane seemed to take an extra wide turn before positioning itself as far back on the runway as it could go. Before long, the plane was at max thrust and hot sand was blowing everywhere. What lasted less than thirty seconds, felt like 10 minutes. The crowd behind the plane was being sandblasted and blown over and down the beach towards the water. I was quick to duck and cover and tried to make myself as small as possible. I couldn’t see anything in the sandstorm, but I could hear the screams of the crowd and feel the sharp sand as it flew all around me. The aftermath wasn’t pretty. Many people ended up tumbling down the beach into the water, getting a face-full of sand, and getting the wind knocked right out of them.

IMG_9850 IMG_9829 IMG_9769_9772_001When you go, I suggest standing clear to the sides of the beach and watching all the naïve souls congregating directly behind the jets. You can watch the videos on Youtube of all the poor people tumbling into the ocean as they hang on for dear life. There are several bars and restaurants on southern end of the beach where people watch the planes come and go all day.

It was an incredible day unlike any other. The beach we picked out to visit was gorgeous and the experience of standing at the end of an international airport runway was unforgettable to say the least. Watching the videos of the planes taking off and landing prior to our trip had me so excited for the experience and I definitely look forward to going back not only for it but also the Saint Maarten beaches. St. Maarten definitely ranks as the number two island of the voyage after St. Thomas (the final island).