The title of being the busiest cruise port for the Caribbean goes to Miami. In seven days though the cruises from Miami can only reach Puerto Rico and the Virgin islands and return – it is too far to go to the rest of the Antilles. San Juan is the second most popular cruise ship port, and its georgraphical location allows to reach within seven days any point in the Caribbean. As a rule, the cruising companies plan the route in such a way that on five days of the cruise the ship is in port in various points of the Antilles and the sixth day is fully at sea. In our case the day at sea was the last day as we sailed all the way from Grenada (the last island in the Antilles chain) to Puerto Rico. We sailed with Royal Caribbean, and its cruises are such that the same ship never plies the same route – every week the route is somewhat different in terms of the islands visited, but always returning to Puerto Rico. There is one port however that is on almost every itinerary – that’s Charlotte-Amalie on the island of Saint Thomas, one of the American Virgin islands.
Actually we didn’t even notice how the ship left Puerto Rico. It was dark and we were dining and suddenly we realised that through we no longer see through the windows the evening lights of San Juan. Rather it was the darkness of the open ocean as we were sailing past it at a good speed. Waking up the next morning and looking out the window, it was an “It ain’t Kansas, Toto!” moment. It was clearly not Puerto Rico, this tropical island down below.
Charlotte-Amalie is the shoppers paradise. It’s a U.S. territory which however possesses special tax free regime for certain categories of goods. We weren’t too interested in that, and so we walked the shore promenade to the town – passing by necessity the shopping area.
Our ship can be seen from every point in the town. The cruising ships are of course the lifeline of this island and everything revolves around the ship and the visitors it brings when it’s in port.
The main street of Charlotte-Amalie. Diamonds are the top export article here (like all over Caribbean, as a matter of fact – Nassau in the Bahamas also had diamond shops all over the place). Experienced shoppers warn against buying diamond articles so far from home – changing, returning or repairing them becomes a big nuisance due to the distance, even if the guarantee is respected.
American Virgin islands have a curious history. For most of the colonial times these four islands in fact belonged to Denmark! There’s a colonial empire you wouldn’t first think of! Denmark gradually accumulated four islands, whereas the rest of the Virgin island group was controlled by Britain (and they remain British as British Virgin islands). Looking at the French Saint-Domingue (today’s Haiti) just nearby, the Danish tried to copy the efficient slavery planatations on Saint Thomas, but the soils here were too poor and so nothing came of it. Instead the island became the centre of piracy as well as the slave and rum trade. In 1917 Denmark sold the four islands to the Americans for a rather substantial amount at the time.
No one actually speaks Danish in Saint Thomas anymore, and yet the Danish streetnames have been preserved. Every streetcorner shows off a fancy “gade” ending.
On Norre Gade there’s also a Lutheran church:
No less colourful parish members:
Of course the church is dutifully visited by Danish tourists:
The town occupies a steep hillside. We climbed the stairs up – this is the so-called 99 steps staircase:
And we met this rather indifferent beast on one of the side streets. A huge iguana!
Commemoration of liberty fighters:
The top local tourist attraction is the Blackbeard Castle, at the top of the Government Hill. We decided that climbing this little tower is not worth our ten dollars.
You could see our ships in the middle of the splendid bay anyway. In the meantime another ship came to join it.
We descend back down:
In the meantime a visit to the Pirate museum, which is more like a shop – like everything in Charlotte-Amalie:
The governor’s residence is a wonderful colonial mansion.
The view out from the mansion:
There’s “the place for everything” in Charlotte-Amalie!
We had lunch in a local restaurant – I took a traditional local dish called callaloo soup. Its main ingredients are spinach and ochre. If you add all the requisite local sauces, the result is mighty spicy!
And then – no limit to our delight! – a colibri came to visit! First time in my life I saw one.
It’s absolutely true that their wings move so fast that the human eye cannot perceive the movement – it appears as if the body of the bird is surrounded by a tiny blue and green cloud!!
A local acquaintance took us around the island in his car. First stop was Magens Bay, the most famous beach in the Virgin archipelago.
I was especially envious of the impressive yachts docked in the distance in the Bay.
The pelicans would repeatedly land on the water right next to us as we swam.
Magens Bay is on the North side of the island, across from Charlotte-Amalie which is in the South. On the way back we visited a luxury hotel in the hills.
The views of the island from the various lookout points:
We walk back to the ship. The ship normally leaves port rather early – at 4 or 5pm. I’m not sure what is the reason for such a schedule – cleraly it’s not the distance to be covered, as on the day when we only needed to go 100 kilometres we sailed out at 4pm anyway. I suspect the small Caribbean towns are considered unsafe after dark by some overly protective security officials.
The roof of the ship offers a great opportunity to make photos. I made quite a few on that day as we sailed in the sunset.
I wonder who is the owner of this one. The name is Infinity, George Town.
Charlotte-Amalie is now firmly behind us.
All the posts about the cruise in the Caribbean:
Puerto Rico: Strange Spanish-speaking United States
A Denmark in the Antilles: Charlotte-Amalie of the US Virgin Islands
Blotch of Antigua with its 365 beaches of eternal sun
Colourful decay of overseas France: Martinique
Saint Lucia, the most authentic of the Caribbean islands
The last island of the Antilles: Grenada