Lazy Days Exploring Familiar Caribbean Ports

Day 71, 2023 Grand South America and Antarctica

Saturday, Dec.16, 2023; San Juan, Puerto Rico

Eighty-four days after I left my sister’s home to join Holland America’s ms Zaandam in Montreal, I arrived this morning at our last port of this journey around South America. After today we will have two sea days before I disembark in Fort Lauderdale.

Because (of course) Puerto Rico is part of the United States, we each had to pass through immigration on the pier this morning. It always ends up being an arduous process, as once you pass through, you cannot return to the ship until everyone exits. Some people seem to think this rule doesn’t apply to them, and hundreds wait on shore for the dozen or so laggards to respond to urgent announcements of their names and cabin numbers on the ship’s loudspeaker.

My plan for the day was fairly simple. My weather app forecasted rain for the afternoon, so I left at 8 a.m. to explore Old San Juan, just off the main cruise pier. (Large Royal Caribbean and Celebrity ships were docked at a less favorable location near the airport runways.)

As I left early, I enjoyed my morning latte at a nearby Starbucks and then headed up the hill to Castillo de San Cristobal, one of the historic forts of Old San Juan that I haven’t visited before. The Spanish initially established this and the perhaps more visited Castillo San Felipe del Morro at the entrance of the harbor to provide protection not only to Puerto Rico, but to the entire Caribbean.

The forts later became part of the American defense, particularly important during World War II. Now they are part of the U.S. National Park Service. Not thinking, I had left my lifetime park pass on the ship. Oh well, if I’m going to contribute $10 to a federal agency, the National Park Service is high on my list.

I explored the tunnels, turrets and other defensive elements of the fort and then meandered back down the hill through narrow streets lined with apartments and later shops that mainly cater to tourists. I thought I had found a rare t-shirt with my name on it, but the sales guy saved me from embarrassment by telling me it was a dirty slang phrase. I did find a tiny nativity scene in a gourd for my collection. By late morning, I was back on the ship.

The ship hosted a big party on the Lido Aft Deck for our final sail away, complete with live music and complementary wine and cheese.

Those who ate dinner in the Lido were treated to a Caribbean feast, including roast pig.

Yesterday I spent even less time ashore in Road Town, Tortola, the main island in the British Virgin Islands. I’ve been here several times before, but mainly arriving by air to charter a yacht for a couple of weeks at a time. It’s one of my favorite places to sail, with many smaller islands just a short distance away.

From the looks of the marinas, and the boats returning to them in the mist this morning, most of the charter boats now are catamarans. When my nephews were young, I took the whole family on a bareboat charter in just such a catamaran.

It promised to be a rainy day, but I managed to head out just after one deluge and return as another was threatening. Since last time I visited, the town has added a block or two of shops just off the cruise pier, with the ubiquitous jewelry shops and souvenirs. I headed a few blocks away to Pussers Rum and Pub, where I had planned to hang out if caught in the rain. But it was too early in my mind for drinking, so I shopped the outlet store and found a nice t-shirt instead. A local bookstore resulted in a great children’s book about ocean adventures, which I will send home for my great nephew.

On Thursday we stopped in Roseau, Dominica, but docked a mile out of town. I was disappointed to see the Eurodam on the center city dock – in my mind, our grand cruise ship should have been at the preferred dock. But those decisions are way above my pay grade. I enjoyed a day aboard the ship, as it is another port I have explored before.