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Published December 31st 2017
Sail The Caribbean Sea And Visit Sun-Kissed Islands
There can be few better places to escape to during a harsh British winter than the sun-kissed Caribbean. But, with so many appealing islands to choose from, how do you decide where to go? Fortunately, help was at hand in the form of a cruise with the choice of the Southern Caribbean providing no fewer than six fabulous islands in six days as part of the overall 10-night voyage with Princess Cruises.
The lavish interior and Christmas decorations on board Royal Princess
The holiday began with a flight to Miami, Florida. I stayed the night in a hotel before being transferred to the nearby port of Fort Lauderdale where I was to meet the magnificent Royal Princess, all 19 decks of her. With our first Caribbean island of the Dominican Republic well over a day away, there was ample time to explore the ship - officially named by HRH the Duchess of Cambridge in 2013 - which was to be the temporary home for some 3,500 passengers. With a ship of this size, there was no shortage of excellent bars and restaurants throughout the vessel, while the range of facilities onboard varied from a swimming pool, spa and sizeable fitness centre to laser gun shooting, golf putting and a sports centre, where you could play tennis or even try your hand at baseball. And at night, as well as the bars, you could enjoy Movies Under the Stars on the open deck 16 or the entertainment programme in the main theatre.
Despite all this, I was still pleased to reach our first Caribbean port of call, namely Amber Cove which is to be found on the north coast of the Dominican Republic. From here, it was just seven miles to the culturally rich city of Puerto Plata, with its 19th and early 20th-century architecture, which I explored on a five-hour shore excursion. The trip also included a visit to a local rum factory where free samples were readily available, before continuing on to visit the San Felipe Fortress, built in 1564 to guard the city against pirate invasions, followed by San Felipe Cathedral and Independence Square where I got to enjoy a taste of fresh tropical coconut water.
The delightful Martinique capital of Fort-de-France
After the Dominican Republic, it was a short sailing to St Thomas in the US Virgin Islands, which America bought from Denmark for a reputed $25 million in gold. Like most, if not all, of the Caribbean islands, water sports such as snorkelling, sailing and diving are widely available, or you could just chill out and enjoy the stunning mountain scenery and white-sand beaches, or even take advantage of the duty free-shopping. The following day the ship had left the US and arrived in France in the shape of Martinique. The island, which has been governed by France for more than three centuries, is a tropical paradise of dense rainforest, rolling savanna and stunning beaches which has been home to the rich and famous for decades. The Royal Princess docked in the historic Martinique capital of Fort-de-France which was easy to explore despite the narrow, cobbled streets lined with colonial and Creole-style buildings and houses. You can also visit the huge Fort St. Louis which guards the harbour.
The colourful and picturesque inner harbour at St George's in Grenada
Next up was Grenada, the Caribbean's "Isle of Spice", which was one of the world's major producers of nutmeg, mace, clove, cinnamon, and cocoa. No building in Grenada, which infamously became the focus of US military intervention in 1983, may be built higher than a coconut palm which means the majority of hotels are small and also family owned. St George's Harbour, where the Royal Princess docked, is a picture-perfect postcard of a Caribbean idyll, while the varying delights of Grand Etang Park, which lies within a happily extinct volcano, Fort Frederick, constructed by the French in 1779, and the 32 foot high Annandale Falls are only a short distance away.
A view of the Dutch-style houses at Willemstad in Curacao from the pontoon bridge
Our final ports of call were both in the Caribbean Netherlands, starting with the island of Bonaire which is regarded as a diver's paradise. Despite its small size, there is much more to this Dutch country of just 17,500 residents located off the coast of Venezuela in South America. While diving and snorkelling are still the predominant activities, I enjoyed an island tour of Bonaire which included the delightful Goto Lake, home to the pretty pink flamingo, before returning to explore the Dutch architecture of the capital Kralendijk. After Bonaire, it was the turn of its 'sister' island Curacao and its Dutch-styled capital, Willemstad, filled with bright, pastel-coloured houses, floating market, and pontoon bridge which regularly opens to let vessels through. Other splendid features of Curacao include a walking tour of the dramatic Hato Caves, and the Dutch colonial mansion of Chobolobo where the famous Curaçao liqueur is distilled.
The magnificent mansions and yachts on Fort Lauderdale's intracoastal waterways
After a couple of days at sea, the Royal Princess returned to Fort Lauderdale where, rather than spend all day at Miami Airport, I enjoyed a paddle boat tour of part of the 300 miles of navigable waterways that earn it the name of the "Venice of America". Swopping our cruise liner for the "Carrie B", there followed a 90-minute tour along the Intracoastal Waterway and Port Everglades during which you can gawp at many of the huge, elaborate mansions and celebrity homes along Millionaires Row, as well as the massive yachts docked outside.