Sunny Getaways Cruise on the Oceania Riviera
3/20/16 to 4/2/16
Due to the length of the review, it is in 3 parts to help with the download time. The links to the other pages are at the top of each page.
Page 1 - Embarkation, Ship, Dining, Entertainment, Activities, Ports of Call: Santa Marta, Colombia; Oranjestad, Aruba
Page 2 - Ports of Call: Kralendijk, Bonaire; St. George's, Grenada; Fort de France, Martinique
Page 3 - Ports of Call: Pointe A Pitre, Guadeloupe; Basseterre, St. Kitts; Gustavia, St. Barts
Pointe A Pitre, Guadeloupe
Another day, another new port we hadn’t been to before. This time the French island of Guadeloupe. The island’s shape is commonly referred to as looking like a butterfly. It is actually two islands separated by a narrow strait, with the more mountainous and wet Basse-Terre on the west side and the drier flat Grande-Terre on the east.
Arriving into the port, we could see the mountainous side in the distance as well as the flatter area where we were docked.
Since we had a lot of onboard credit to use, we had booked ship excursions for Guadeloupe. Once again, I was on my own on the strenuous tour to the Pointe De Chateaux. This tour would take me to the furthest eastern point at the end of the Grand-Terre peninsula. The rest of the crew took the milder Guadeloupe Highlights tour. Both tours were on the flatter side of the island.
My tour guide was Patrick. This fellow had lots of personality and did a fine job of enlightening the group about the island.
Once again, we were on one of the smaller busses, which worked out great in getting into some of the places we stopped.
It was different to actually be on a real highway for part of the drive to the Pointe De Chateaux. Guadeloupe is a much more developed island than most we had visited. Our first stop would be in the tourist town of St. Anne. It was the last place to use restrooms before driving out onto the peninsula. We stopped at a shopping area called Village Artisanal. There were lots of shops, many selling unique crafts. I thought we stayed there a lot longer than we needed to.
The main attraction for me was the beach area on the other side of the road from the market. In addition to the pretty beach, there were lots of people para-surfing.
While continuing the drive, we passed by an old windmill. There were lots of new windmills on the island; but this was the only old one we saw.
The drive passed by many beaches and lots of tourists enjoying them. As we approached our destination, I was glad we were on a tour, because there were cars parked all along the road, which would have made it a longer walk to our destination if we weren’t going to be dropped off. Once we got out of the bus, I could see our destination on the top of a hill. I understood why this was called the strenuous tour. We would have to walk up to where we could see other people walking around the cross, 210 feet or 21 stories above where we were standing.
The first part of the trek was rather enjoyable going through the scrub brush along the water. It was a flat to mild incline on a narrow dirt path.
Before long we were rewarded with a gorgeous view of the crashing waves along the beach and rock formation we would soon be viewing from above. The winds were very strong and apparently are most of the time. These conditions keep this area from being used as a beach for swimming; but it is apparently very popular for kite flying. I do believe that if I was flying a kite, I would want to be attached to an anchor in these ripping winds.
We then approached where the pleasant walk would become work. The path wasn’t too bad; but the stone steps that ascended to the peak were not enjoyable. Besides being a bit slippery due to the sand on them, they weren’t exactly level, since they were just rock stairs. Sometimes I wonder why I sign up for this type of tour.
When I finally got up to the 30-foot tall cross, I found out why I had climbed to the top. The view out to the end of point was amazing.
In addition, the view to the right side wasn’t too shabby.
Walking around the top was a bit challenging; since we were walking on smooth stones and because the winds were very strong. With the way the winds were pushing me, I wish that I had brought a walking stick to move from point to point or just stopping for a photo. I was surprised that there wasn’t any type of restraints on top of the hill to hold on to or to prevent one from just walking off into the ocean.
The view looking back down the peninsula showed how narrow the area we drove through actually was.
The walk down was much more pleasant; but I have found that I am less stable and more concerned about slipping going down a hill.
After reaching the beach area, I took lots of photos of the beautiful place from different angles to be able to remember it. It was the place to visit while on Guadeloupe. I guess that is why it receives over a half million visitors a year to see what I had just seen.
On the way back we passed by windmill farms taking advantage of the strong winds in the area to create electricity.
Patrick asked the driver to stop in front of an old French style home that was in serious need of some TLC. It was a home that was built in the workshop of Gustave Eiffel, the maker of the Eiffel Tower. It is said to be haunted by the ghosts of the murdered Indian workers. It does have the look of a haunted house.
Our last stop would be in the town of Morne-a-l’Eau. As we approached our destination, everyone was amazed to see a cemetery in the shape of an amphitheater with black and white checkered graves. Now this was an unusual cemetery to say the least.
We spent about 15 minutes looking around and taking in this unique place. It is one of those places where you just can’t take enough photos to capture the whole place. At times like this, I wish I had a drone to mount a camera on to be able to capture it all.
We returned to the ship for a late lunch. Since there didn’t seem to be much to visit close to the ship, I just stayed on and took some photos of the area from deck 14.
I was intrigued with an unusual looking building that I could see from the front to the ship. I didn’t hear about it on the tour or see anything in the port handout about this building. When I attended another Sandy Cares lecture in the afternoon, I asked her what it was. She told me that it was a slavery museum. I looked it up online and found out that it had just opened in July 2015 with the president of France in attendance. It is a 77,000 square foot facility that cost a reported $74,000,000 to build. Since it was convenient to the ship, it would have been a great place to visit.
I was glad to just relax after my strenuous activities of the day. After all we would have to get ready for happy hour and a delicious dinner pretty soon. I do love to cruise.
Basseterre, St. Kitts
Today was a special day, my birthday. It was also the first time that I would be able to celebrate my birthday while on a cruise. I was pleased that this day would be spent on the beautiful island of St. Kitts. There was a slight chance for rain today and the clouds we could see from the ship indicated to me that there was a very good chance. But fortunately I was wrong and it turned out to be another beautiful touring day.
This would be one of two tender ports on the cruise, since there were only 3 docking locations and we were the smallest of the four ships in port. It was surprising that St. Kitts was the only port we stopped at that had other ships in port during the whole cruise. This tender ride would only be about 5 minutes to the tender pier.
Looking to the other side of the ship, we could see the cloud capped volcano on Nevis just two miles away from St. Kitts.
With the ship arriving early, I was less concerned about getting off the ship for our 9:00 AM tour. We went down early to get tender tickets, since we couldn’t wait for open tenders to be announced later in the morning. We did have to wait for some of the Oceania excursion groups to be tendered to the island before our number was finally called. We were glad we had gotten an early number because we didn’t have much time left to get to the meeting location on time.
We had booked a semi-private tour with a highly recommended company named Grey’s Island Excursions (www.thenfordgreytours.com/home.html). We were going to see the highlights of St. Kitts. We were met in front of the terminal by a girl with a sign. She introduced us to Dwight, whose name tag had the title of tour guide on it, so we assumed that he was our guide.
Since we would have to wait for others from the ship to arrive on a different tender, Dwight took us to the van, so we could sit and wait in the air conditioning. The van was very nice and roomy.
After a bit, some other guests arrived and we had about 10 people on the tour, which left a lot of empty seats for us to spread out in the bus. Another gentleman in a company tee shirt got onto the van and told Dwight to head out. It turned out that he was going to be our guide and he was Thenford Grey, the owner of the company.
The van had an excellent sound system; but I don’t know that we would have even needed it, since Thenford had an amazing deep, soothing voice that projected very well. He sounded very much like the fellow that did the Come to Jamaica TV commercials many years ago. We were so fortunate to have Thenford as our guide, since he was so knowledgeable about everything we were seeing and he was such a pleasure to listen too. This was going to be a great tour.
We started out with a tour of the city of Basseterre. We entered the Circus area which was patterned after London’s Piccadilly Circus. The green Berkeley Memorial is set in the middle of the Circus.
We drove through the streets with Thenford pointing out buildings of interest. Many of which I would come back to later on my own to get better photos of them.
We passed by the War Memorial which commemorates twenty men from World War 1 and six from World War 2.
We stopped at a place where we could get a photo of the Riviera, so I got Hans and Barbara in the shot.
It was also a better spot to take a photo of Nevis, since the clouds had lifted some.
We passed by a tree loaded with white Cattle Egrets. We have this type bird in south Florida; but I have never seen them in a large group like this.
Our first stop would be at the Romney Manor. The manor is noteworthy in that it contains the ruins of the 17th century manor of Captain Samuel Jefferson, great-great-great grandfather of President Thomas Jefferson. The ruins were actually pretty complete and much more to look at then I expected.
The drive through the rain forest on the grounds was also enjoyable.
The manor’s gardens are just gorgeous. The colors were so vibrant throughout the grounds. We were really enjoying this stop.
This was a great place to start a tour of this lovely island. Just so much beauty to behold.
We were impressed with the massive 370-year-old African Saman Tree, with its branches covered with ferns.
On the manor grounds was the Caribelle Batik Shop. There was a demonstration in the shop of how batik is made using wax to make the designs in the cloth. While walking through the gardens, we could see the batik on clothes line drying.
Our next destination was to the Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park. This UNESCO World Heritage Site sits on top of a 754 ft. volcanic hill. Quite an impressive structure from the ground. It got even better as we drove up the hill toward it.
When we finally got to the end of the drive and the van parking lot, I saw what would be another climbing experience. This was starting to get old; but I can’t resist going up to places like this as long as I am physically able to.
When I reached the top, it was nice to be able to look down on some of the lower sections of the fort; as well as the volcanic mountain on Sint Eustatius.
The fort itself was in such great shape and there were so many canons along the edges; as well as spectacular views of the land below. This would have been a very difficult fort to try to take from ground level.
After walking around the outer walls, we went to the main Fort George Citadel. I first took the stairs up to the top of the citadel. I couldn’t believe how many canons there were around the walls. This was quite a fort.
After checking out all the views from the top, I took the stairs down to the main citadel courtyard. It was quite interesting to walk around and look into the well-marked various rooms in the fort.
There was also a small museum located in a few of the rooms.
After I finished my citadel exploration, I came back down the long stairs to where the van was parked and explored the lower areas of the fortress. This was just an amazing place that had been renovated to where it looked like it did hundreds of years ago. It is considered one of the best preserved historical forts in the Americas. It is certainly the most impressive fort I have been to; and I have been to a bunch of them.
After leaving the fort, our last stop would be to Timothy Hill on the southeastern peninsula. While in the parking lot, we saw lots of locals making money selling photo opps with strangely attired burros and small monkeys.
Behind us was a gorgeous bay with upscale resorts lining the beach.
In front of us was a beautiful view with the Atlantic Ocean on the left and Caribbean on the right. This had been a great scenic overlook stop.
At this time, we had the option of either going to a beach to swim for a couple hours, be dropped off in the downtown shopping area or be dropped off at the ship. Since it was after 1:00 PM, we decided to go back to the ship for lunch. Everyone agreed that this had been the best tour of the cruise. We understood why Grey’s Island Excursions is one of the top rated St. Kitts tour companies on TripAdvisor.
After lunch, I got back on the tender and headed back to town to do some exploring on my own. Thenford had shown us lots of places that I wanted to go back to see up close. In order to see those places, everyone has to pass through the many stores in the modern shopping area just outside Port Zante. With four ships in port, there were lots of people getting their shopping fixes.
At the outer edge of the shopping area was a sign directing tourists to historic Basseterre.
The first building I came to was the National Museum of St. Kitts. The passageway led to the Circus area we previously passed by.
I was able to get a close up of the Berkeley Memorial.
My first destination to find was the St. Georges Anglican Church. Using the port shopping map provided by the ship, it was easy to locate, plus it was hard to miss the tall clock tower.
The interior had an attractive ceiling and some lovely stained glass windows.
Not far away was Independence Square. It was once named Pall Mall Square and was the site of the slave market. It was renamed Independence square in 1983 when St. Kitts achieved political independence.
Across the street from the square is Basseterre Co-Cathedral of Immaculate Conception. It had an impressive façade and was adorned by large palms.
The interior had a painting of the Last Supper on the altar.
On the way back to the ship, I had to pass back through the shopping area. It was even more crowded than before. There were several locals with multiple monkeys on them moving around the crowd to get tourists to pay to have the monkeys in photos with them. This tourist was getting a special selfie in St. Kitts.
Back on the ship I was able to get a photo of the other ships at the two dock locations. Fortunately, when we are back in January, we should be able to be at a dock, rather than having to tender. It does make a port much more enjoyable.
With the sun shining brightly, we were able to get a better view of Nevis, with its peak still surrounded by clouds.
Since we would be in port until midnight, it gave passengers an opportunity to eat on shore. However, since it was my birthday, we had booked dinner at Jaques, the French specialty restaurant on the Riviera, for a special night. At the end of dinner, the waiters brought out a small birthday cake for me and sang Happy Birthday. A nice finish to a most enjoyable port day.
Gustavia, St. Barts
I was looking forward to visiting the Caribbean’s most elite and expensive island, Saint-Barthélemy. I wanted see how different it was from the other Caribbean islands we had visited in the past and on this cruise. This is where the celebrities come to vacation and very few cruise ships are allowed to visit, so I was going to take advantage of the opportunity and see the sights.
As we anchored outside of Gustavia, we could see lots of large yachts and many other smaller ones between us and where we would tender into town. Unlike St. Kitts, this would be a much longer tender ride, closer to 15 minutes. We also had a chance of rain; but it never materialized.
Looking north, we could see the island of St. Martin, which is just 18.5 miles away.
We had not booked any excursions here, because there just weren’t very many in the first place and nothing we were interested in. We just wanted to look around town and see where the idle rich shopped. There was no rush to get tender tickets this morning; but I did want to go into town before it got too warm. Apparently no one was in a rush to go ashore, since I just walked into the theater, got my tender ticket and was told to head for the tender.
There were some most impressive yachts in the harbor that we passed on the way to the tender pier. One of them was the Yalla, a 240-foot yacht, valued at $80 million and owned by an Egyptian billionaire. The sleek look made it quite an eye catcher.
Another one was the Luna, which is owned by a Russian billionaire. At 377 feet, it is the world’s second largest expedition yacht. It cost $545 million to build. Expedition yachts are different from private yachts. I am not sure why; but they are apparently fitted out differently.
The Eclipse was the largest yacht in port that day. It is in fact the second largest private yacht in the world at 533 feet long, just 57 feet shorter than number 1, which wasn’t in port, the Azzam. It is owned by the president of the United Arab Emirates. The Eclipse is also owned by a Russian billionaire and is estimated to have cost $400 million. To relate to the size of Eclipse, the Riviera is 785 feet long.
Once on land, I started to explore and take lots of photos. It was mountainous and a classy well maintained place. Since St. Barts is the only Caribbean island that was ever a Swedish colony, it has unique architecture.
Across the water on the top of the hill is Fort Oscar and the municipal building complex. There were also lots of yachts out in the harbor other than the mega-yachts.
Walking down the shopping street, there were plenty of high end shops and lots of traffic.
With the sidewalks being narrow and the streets crowded, I decided to walk along the wide path along the water. It was a good choice, since the scenery was much nicer.
At the end of the harbor is a very large anchor and chain. It was made in Liverpool.
Behind the Anchor is the St. Bartholomew’s Anglican Church. This church was built in 1855 while it was under Swedish rule. It wasn’t much to look at; but was unique, since French islands don’t normally have Anglican churches.
Close to the church were two historical homes, the Wood House (1830) and the Brick House (1841). The Wood House was in bad need of some TLC, while the Brick House was in great shape.
My first destination was to see Shell Beach. The lecturer had told us to look for signs with an arrow that said “Plage”. That is apparently French for beach.
Unfortunately, at one intersection there wasn’t a sign and some tourists were worried that they would have to climb a steep hill to get to the beach. I had the shopping map and realized that I needed to turn right before the hill. I gave many tourists instructions after I came back from the beach on how to get there. They needed to turn at the first round blue and red sign. If they didn’t ask me, I could tell from their expressions that they weren’t about to walk up that hill to go to a beach. So I would ask if they were looking for the beach. They were most grateful.
Shell Beach is the only convenient beach from Gustavia. The main beaches used by the celebrities are on the other side of the island. We were told that the five-minute cab ride would be $25 each way. Plus, beach chairs cost $100 each. Sounds like an elite beach experience to me.
When I arrived at Shell Beach, I was quite pleased at how nice it was. It was in a very nice setting and the water looked very inviting. I believe that the beach chairs were only around $30 each on this beach.
I got a kick out of the ash trays that they used for people coming on to the beach, since smoking is not allowed.
There were lots of small shells on the beach; but it was mostly sand near the water.
When returning from the beach, I saw a road going up a hill. It looked like there might be a nice scenic overlook on top, so I decide to do some climbing. When I got there, there was a fenced area where I could look over a ledge out to the ocean. There was a wrecked boat right below me and a pretty view looking out.
When I turned around to go back down the hill, I realized that it was pretty steep.
When I got to the bottom, I noticed a sign on the wall that said “Fort Carl” and a long stairway leading up. I really didn’t want to climb a bunch of steps; but I was so curious as to what was up there. It could be photography nirvana at the top. I kept thinking that “curiosity killed the cat”; but I could always come down if I got tired. Right!
These steps were really tall. It wasn’t a very pleasant climb. As I got what I thought was most of the way up, I looked back to see what the view was. It looked pretty nice; but the view up more of the stairs was not as appealing.
At long last, I finally got to the top of the stairs. I didn’t see a fort, just some scrub brush and a dirt path. This was not what I was hoping for. I walked a bit and saw a landing which looked like what was what remained of Fort Carl. I walked out to the edge and found a great view of Shell Beach.
I walked around the area following another dirt path and found a wooden platform that looked to be used for viewing.
It was quite an expansive view of Gustavia. With the long climb up, Fort Carl was not a popular place for tourists. They didn’t know what they were missing.
I continued down another path and found another remnant of the fort that appeared to be a viewing platform. A woman had a towel spread out and was doing her morning exercises on it. This certainly is a good place to find solitude. That is until a tourist shows up with a camera. I apologized for the interruption and went out to take a few photos.
I could see a private cove to the left and a lovely view to the right that included the Riviera at anchor.
Although it was not an enjoyable climb, I was glad that I did it for the great views. With the tall steps, I had to be very careful descending. As I was walking along the street, I saw a narrow rock lined walkway. So I thought there might be something photogenic in the area.
I came upon another church, The Church of Our Lady of the Assumption. This Catholic church was built in 1829.
Across from the church was a pretty rotunda in a garden.
I went into the church and was surprised that it was a relatively modern design. I have a feeling it didn’t look this way in 1829.
A nice feature of walking around St. Barts is that every historical place has an information placard on it to let the tourist know about what they are seeing. I found out that there was a separate bell tower and steeple built behind the church. It was done to prevent damage to the church if the bell fell during a hurricane. Pretty clever. The only problem was that I would have to climb more stairs to get up the hill where the bell tower was located. No rest for the weary. It was rather interesting to see a steeple separate from the church.
One of the attractions mentioned in the port talks was the Swedish Clock Tower, which was once the campanile of a Lutheran church destroyed by a hurricane. I could see it from the Catholic church bell tower area; but couldn’t see the clock face, because I was seeing the back of the tower. So down the hill I went to find it.
I found a street that looked like it would take me to the bell tower. When I got closer, I saw it; but good grief there were more steps to climb. I was getting my exercise in today. The steps started out as concrete and then turned to just dirt and stones, rather treacherous actually. But I made it to the top and got a photo. The clock just looked like a big Timex. Kind of disappointing; but I was able to check off the last attraction on my “to do” list for the day.
I wasn’t looking forward to walking down the dirt part of the hill. A couple up there with me that I had been talking to earlier at the church told me that they came up the back side on a street. It was much easier they said, so I took their advice. It was very good advice. I was glad they had been there.
I had beaten myself up enough for the day, so I headed for the tender to return to the ship for lunch. As I was returning, Carol was getting ready to head in with Hans and Barbara. After lunch I was quite content to just take some photos from the ship of the area rather than going back into town. It is a lovely town; but it didn’t feel like a Caribbean island. It was a bit stuffy and way too expensive for me.
Even though we had visited our last port, we still had two more sea days to enjoy the Riviera. There hadn’t been any new Noro cases; and most of those guests that had been sick were out of quarantine. It did seem like they had eased up some on where and how frequently they were applying the disinfectant. Since we had gotten quite used to the enhanced procedures, they didn’t bother us at all and we were still having a great cruise. The last two days were as they were supposed to be, two relaxing days at sea.
Disembarkation is normally a pretty easy straight forward procedure. During the cruise we received forms to fill out asking when we wanted to disembark and if we were with any other passengers. We requested 9:00 AM disembarkation with our friends Hans and Barbara. They requested the same time and with us, so we figured it shouldn’t be an issue. When we received our luggage tags, they were a different color and number from our friends, so I went to the destinations desk where they handled these issues. We had both been scheduled to disembark at 9:30 AM in different groups. Why did they even send out the forms if they weren’t going to do what we requested? It was easily fixed and we received the same color tags for a 9:00 AM disembarkation. It was a minor hassle; but certainly should have been unnecessary.
The bigger problem came on disembarkation day. The letter we received told us to wait in the lounges until our color/numbers were called. They failed to tell us which floor we would disembark from. That was important to us, since Carol was riding her TravelScoot and would need to take the elevator down to the correct floor before our number was called. Since we had embarked on deck 5, we went down to deck 5. We were then told that we would disembark on deck 6 by the customer service people. It was difficult enough to get an elevator in the first place, so we weren’t happy to have to wait for another one. When it came, we loaded up and went up one floor. Oh my gosh, it was wall to wall people! We couldn’t get out of the elevator. After we asked people to make room we were finally able to get off and find a spot to wait to be called. We had gone down early to get a seat; but there were no seats available anywhere and it was too crowded in the halls to go to any of the lounges. I was so glad that Carol could sit on her TravelScoot, because she could not have stood as long as we had to wait.
It was rather warm on deck 6, not because it was hot outside; but because there were so many people waiting. At long last Dottie finally came on to the PA system and told everyone that we would disembark on deck 6. Later she called the first batch and the crowd thinned out some. We would be in the second batch. People kept coming down the elevators; but since there were no announcements as to what numbers had been called, people didn’t know what their status was, so they waited in line too. Finally, our numbers were called and the line started moving. Then all of a sudden it stopped for over 15 minutes. People were standing in line in the hot environment wondering what was going on. The girl at the door was telling people right next to her why we weren’t allowed to exit; but no one else knew. Why didn’t Dottie provide some information about it. I don’t mind waiting; but we needed to know why and at least an estimate of how long we would have to wait. When the line started moving again, it was a piece of cake leaving the ship, finding our luggage and going through immigration/customs. It was really a shame that after a nice cruise, the final actions by the cruise line left a bad impression. I was quite disappointed that Oceania had let this happen.
After our first cruise on Riviera, we were really looking forward to spending two full weeks on her. Although we did get a different quality of product on this cruise than expected, due to the Noro virus outbreak, we still had a most enjoyable cruise. We had great weather and were able to visit several new ports. We got to spend time with our friends Hans and Barbara, get reacquainted with friends from a prior Oceania cruise and met a lot of very nice people on the ship.
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