The Eastern Caribbean is calling. The morning air is crisp on a late autumn day. The colder winter days are fast approaching. A vacation is needed, but where can that be?
The recipe for ridding yourself of winter blues is some time in the Eastern Caribbean. We chose to use Royal Caribbean for our vacation in the late fall and our cruise was a welcome break as the seasons began to change.
Our first stop on our vacation is the island of St.Croix, the largest island in the United States Virgin Islands. It has two towns, Frederiksted on the western end and Christiansted on the island's northeastern part. Our cruise ship moored at a pier in Frederiksted near Fort Frederick.
Europeans first visited the island of St Croix in the Eastern Caribbean when Christopher Columbus landed on November 14, 1493. He called it Santa Cruz or Holy Cross. During the period until 1733, the island was occupied intermittently by English, Spanish and French forces. At this time, Denmark purchased St. John, St. Thomas, and St. Croix from France.
The U.S. Virgin Islands began when the United States purchased the islands from Denmark in 1916. The islands have been susceptible to tropical storms, with Hugo in 1989 and Maria in 2017 causing significant damage to many buildings on the island. Today St. Croix is largely dependent on tourist visits for its economy.
Places to See
Fort Frederik is visible at the end of the Frederiksted pier. It is from here that the Danish government emancipated slaves in 1848. Inside the fort are a museum and gallery. Fort Frederik is open for visitors on weekdays from 8:30 am to 4:00 pm at a minimal cost. We found the fort to be well worth our time and money to visit, and especially enjoyed the view from the upper level.
Some other places that you should consider exploring are Rainbow Beach, St. George Village Botanical Garden, and the Frederiksted Pier. There are many tour options available on the island, but for a unique experience, consider adding a private photography tour to your schedule!
Our second island to visit in the Eastern Caribbean is St. Kitts in the Federation of Saint Kitts and Nevis. The capital city is Basseterre, where our ship moored. St. Kitts is approximately 1300 miles southeast of Miami, Florida. It was previously a member of the British West Indies until becoming independent in 1983.
St. Kitts was inhabited by a variety of indigenous peoples prior to the discovery of the island in 1493 by Christopher Columbus. It was controlled at various times by Spain, France, and Great Britain. In 1783, St Kitts became permanently affiliated with Great Britain. The island produced sugar cane in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Places to See
When we left the cruise ship terminal, a congregation of traffic and sights beckoning back to London appeared. The Circle has the Berkeley Clock Tower at its center. The Circle is a model of Picadilly Circus in London.
Some other areas worthy of investigation are Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park, Cockleshell Beach, Fairview Great House & Botanical Garden, and the National Museum.
St. Martin is the next stop in our tour of the Eastern Caribbean islands. French Saint-Martin to the north and the Dutch Sint Maarten to the south comprise the island. It's a tiny island of only 34 square miles, but don't let the size fool you. There is so much to see and do on this pretty island.
St. Martin was initially sighted by Christopher Columbus on his second voyage, but he never landed on the island. The island was controlled by both the Dutch and Spanish intermittently between 1631 and 1648. At that time, both France and The Netherlands colonized the island.
In order to prevent warfare over control of the island, they signed a treaty peacefully dividing the island.
Today the island has tourism as a principal element of its economy. St. Martin is vulnerable to tropical weather patterns with the hurricanes Luis in 1995, and Irma in 2017 severely damaging buildings on the island.
Places to See
Upon exiting the cruise ship terminal in Sin Maarten, we found the Phillipsburg boardwalk, a broad walkway at the edge of the beach. Along the path, you will find tourist amenities, as well as many shops, bars, and restaurants.
The Phillipsburg boardwalk is a perfect place to relax and enjoy a sunny day in the Caribbean. Some other stops worth your time are Frontstreet for shopping, Fort Louis for its excellent views, and Fort Amsterdam.
Our next island is Martinique. It is located northwest of Barbados and is in the Lesser Antilles. Martinique is in an Overseas Department and Single Territorial Collectivity of France. The official language of the island is French, although most inhabitants also speak Martinican Creole.
Martinique had its first exposure to European explorers in 1502 when Columbus landed briefly. The island has been under the control of France since 1635. During the Second World War, the island was under the power of the Vichy government, allowing the German navy to use it for refueling. In 1943, the island switched to Free French control. The economy of Martinique has shifted in the post-World War era from agriculture to tourism.
Places to See
Leaving the cruise ship, we found many interesting cultural and historic locations after a short walk. One of these is the Schoelcher Library, with an impressive interior that beckons you to stop and read a rare book. Victor Schoelcher was a famous resident of Martinique who led the fight to end slavery on the island.
You can see many of these sights on a walking tour of the downtown area of Fort de France. It is inexpensive and will take about two hours to complete. Some other excursions worth considering are the Street Art Tour and the Full Day Private History Tour of Rum Production in Martinique.
Be sure to dress lightly with liberal use of sunscreen as you are in the warm sun of a Caribbean day.
Our final island to visit on our tour of the Eastern Caribbean islands is Barbados. It is located in the Lesser Antilles and is the easternmost island in the Caribbean Sea. Its location makes it unlikely for hurricanes to make landfall.
European explorers visited Barbados during the 16th century, but it became an English possession in 1627. It enjoyed being the most popular destination for English colonists until 1660, when Virginia was able to overtake them due to their tobacco cultivation. Most of the early settlers of Barbados were indentured servants.
The main crop produced in Barbados switched from tobacco to sugar cane due to the dominance of Virginia in tobacco crop production.
Barbados remained a British colony until 1966, when it became independent and a member of the Commonwealth of Nations.
Places to See
Near the Barbados cruise ship terminal, we explored the area adjacent to it. In a brief period, we found the Pelican Craft Center. When you go here, you are immediately immersed with many different shops and most of them feature local artists. Some artists work in their studio shop and you will learn more about their skills, materials, and their beautiful products.
After we toured the area near the cruise ship, we hired a taxi driver to show us around the island. This is a wonderful way to hear about a place from a local resident and our driver was extremely knowledgeable. The price for a one-hour taxi (fixed fee) was far less than some of the custom tours and we thoroughly enjoyed seeing the George Washington House and the beaches that the locals enjoy daily.
In the afternoon, we explored the reefs just offshore. In Barbados, the Atlantis Submarine is available to safely transport you to the spectacular world of many different fish species. During the tour, the submarine eased within arms-reach of many shipwrecks sitting on the reef. The submarine tour is fun for everyone. Be sure to schedule this tour in advance, as this is a very popular activity.
Some other places that you should consider exploring are the beaches at Shark Hole and Carlisle Bay. The George Washington House is a must-see for history lovers.
If You Go
You can visit these islands either by booking a cruise ship or by making an extended visit.
We chose Royal Caribbean cruise lines for our trip because we have enjoyed sailing with them, but the islands can be visited on many other cruise ship lines.
For more information on visiting these wonderful islands, check out their visitor websites.
St. Croix – visitstcroix.com
St. Kitts – stkittstourism.kn
St. Martin – st-martin.org/us
Sint Maarten – st-maarten.com
Martinique – us.martinique.org
Barbados – visitbarbados.org
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