Perfect destinations for new cruisers
Beloved for their white sand and clear seas, the islands of the Caribbean are a favourite with sun seekers, but with centuries of history and a vibrant food scene a holiday here offers more than just a chance to top up your tan.
It’s little wonder that when holidaymakers seek out sunshine the Caribbean is often front of mind. With high temperatures, when much of the world is freezing, and sand so white it could be mistaken for salt, this pocket of paradise is about as close to being marooned on a desert island as it gets. Yet, for all its spectacular beaches (and they are spectacular) the Caribbean offers much more than an oasis for sand dwellers.
Spanish, Dutch, French and British settlers have all left an imprint, a legacy that has resulted in the multifaceted Caribbean visitors encounter today. The region is also one of indescribable beauty, boasting some of our planet’s most abundant biodiversity, while the flavours of its cross cultural cuisine dance on your taste buds, tantalising the palate with sweetness and spice.
Three things worth knowing
When Christopher Columbus discovered the Caribbean in 1492 he thought he’d arrived in India. He coined the islands the West Indies to distinguish from the East Indies, a term still associated with the Caribbean today.
It’s all cricket
English is widely spoken in the Caribbean and is the official language of most islands but this isn’t the only legacy left by the British. Cricket is also a favourite sport, with the West Indies Cricket Team representing the region.
When pirates plagued the Caribbean one of the most notorious, Sam Lord, placed lanterns in trees to simulate a city and lure vessels to shore. As the unsuspecting ships went aground in the reefs Lord would make his move.
Caribbean cruise highlights
From local crafts and centuries-old rum to UNESCO-listed architecture and spellbinding landscapes, here’s a look at what you can discover on a Cunard cruise to the Caribbean.
Rum distilleries and UNESCO architecture in Bridgetown, Barbados
Situated on the southwest coast, Bridgetown is the capital of Barbados, an island credited with being the birthplace of rum. Today you’ll find upwards of 1,500 distilleries scattered across a 167 square mile radius, including the oldest, Mount Gay, the deeds of which date back to 1703.
Colonised by the British in 1627, Barbados achieved independence in the 1960s but even today the reigning British monarch remains Head of State. A visit to Bridgetown offers myriad reminders of this legacy, not least at the 18th and 19th century built Barbados Garrison. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site, its fort, armouries, underground tunnels, and Georgian style mansion (where President George Washington once stayed) are one of the island’s most visited attractions.
Outdoor adventures and Caribbean crafts in Castries, St Lucia
Cloaked by acres of rainforest concealing coconuts, bananas and mangoes, St Lucia is home to some of Caribbean’s most spectacular natural landscapes and waters that house a kaleidoscope of marine life. Popular with adventurers and honeymooners, its attractions include the volcanic peaks of its UNESCO-listed Pitons and the chance to dive among turtles in the enchanting Anse Chastenet Reef.
In the island capital Castries, you’ll find galleries, artisan shops and restaurants serving traditional creole cuisine. Founded by the French and later used by the British navy, Castries is a jumble of candy-coloured houses at the heart of which lies the vibrant Castries Central Market. Teeming with exotic fruits, spices and natural wares like baskets and beach clothing, shared by over 300 regular vendors, the market is one of the largest and most highly rated in the Caribbean.
Arawak, Dutch and French history in Philipsburg, Sint Maarten
Another fascinating Caribbean cruise port that always enchants visitors is Philipsburg on the Dutch island of St Maarten. With some of the Caribbean’s best duty free shopping found within the pretty candy-hued buildings along Front Street, this charming capital is a great place to pick up precious jewels and electronics. While its beaches, such as the famous Maho, where descending aircrafts pass as low as 50 feet overhead, offer an adrenaline rush that attracts travellers the world over.
One of the most interesting things about Sint Maarten however has to be its history. First inhabited by Arawak Indians in around 800 AD, the island was later fought over by French and Dutch settlers, with the two eventually agreeing to divide the land in the 1600s. This arrangement still continues to this day, and with no hard border between the two territories, the French half, known as Saint Martin can easily be visited on a port call to Philipsburg.
Hot springs and rare plants in Roseau, Dominica
Nicknamed nature’s island, Dominica is one of the Caribbean’s most wild and vividly green islands, and is hugely popular with trail hikers owing to its many breathtaking climbs. By far and away the most popular ascent has to be the island’s boiling lake in the UNESCO-listed Trois Pitons National Park. Heated by volcanic activity below the surface, this bubbling freshwater lake is the second-largest in the world and one of Dominica’s most famous natural wonders.
You’ll also find many ways to appreciate the island’s natural beauty at the Dominica Botanical Gardens in the capital Roseau. Established under the British Empire, their 16 acres offer an oasis where wild birds and lizards roam among the tropical fauna.
One of the gardens’ most iconic trees, an enormous African Baobab, actually toppled during a hurricane in the 1970s, crushing a nearby empty school bus that still remains flattened beneath it to this day.
A taste of the tropics
Of course, no cruise to the Caribbean would be complete without sampling some of the region’s local cuisine, and you’ll find dishes to savour on each of the islands. From flying fish and cou cou (pictured), a fiery Bajan fish stew infused with scotch bonnet, to the breakfast delicacy of green fig (actually banana) served with saltfish in St Lucia, Caribbean food is fresh, hearty and fragrant.
Castries Central Market offers many excellent street food stalls serving up regional specialities (the aroma of which is intoxicating) while the beachfront boardwalk in Philipsburg is a great spot to dine al fresco on the likes of conch and dumplings. Roseau is yet another call that’s tailor-made for foodies, with everything from traditional creole cooking to French patisserie found in port.