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Cruise Diary: Trinidad, Barbados, St. Barts

Aboard Rotterdam.

The island nation of Trinidad and Tobago is a big question mark for a lot of travelers. It’s one of the southernmost locations in the Caribbean, sitting just off the coast of South America.

Our stop in Trinidad was at Port of Spain. It’s a busy, bustling city, unlike any other that we’ve personally visited in the Caribbean. This town’s economy is not based on tourism but rather oil and transportation. The port is a major regional hub for oil transport and cargo distribution.

Rotterdam alongside at Port of Spain, Trinidad.

Rotterdam alongside at the Port of Spain in Trinidad.

Regardless of the area’s economic base, it was quite apparent that the local government was anxious to present a very positive image of the island to their guests. There was a very helpful tourist office right in the terminal and all along the main street and the way leading there from the ship was lined with red-shirted young people who were with the tourist office who were there to show or point the way for us.

Port of Spain, Trinadad.

Port of Spain, Trinadad.

Downtown itself is pleasant, and curiously lacking in touristy restaurants and souvenir shops. It’s surprisingly fresh, and not trying to be anything but a business center. There are plenty of nice beach resorts spread around these rather large islands but not in the town. Hotels here, like the Crown Plaza and the Hyatt, are business hotels. We found some interesting old boats and ships lying at what appeared to be their final resting place in the harbor, which gave us a sense that this was an old port town that had a lot of history to it.

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Barbados gave us a nice long day. We arrived before 8 a.m. and didn’t leave until 11:30 p.m. For the crew and guests alike, most found Barbados to be just a restful and enjoyable stop. It’s been a long and exciting trip so far with incredible sights, unbelievable shore experiences and great personal encounters with the locals.

While Barbados surely offers all of that, our sense was that a lot of people had been here many times and this stop for them became a day to step back, refresh, renew and unwind. The beaches and water around Barbados are as good as it gets. We spent most of our day there relaxing, sunning and playing in some pretty good surf by Caribbean standards right out the back door of a place called The Boat Yard. It sits less than a mile from the ship and that was just perfect. The Boat Yard provided transportation, lounge chairs, umbrellas and a place for cool, refreshing drinks and a nice lunch. This was definitely the playground for the crew and a few guests today.

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Bridgetown offers an abundance of slick T-shirt and ball cap shops to satisfy all of your touristic needs, but just a block behind the showplace main street you can find yourself in the heart of the real local markets, local shops and a rather curious square that was the hub of a pretty serious gambling industry by and for the locals. We wandered into this area thinking it was more of the same as before — clothes shops, fresh fruit and vegetables markets — but found what looked like an off-track betting parlor. Turned out that next to that one was another and another and yet five or six more.

There were locals hanging out in the street just waiting for the next race to go off. It was clean, friendly and lighthearted, but definitely different. A couple of blocks from there we found ourselves back in tourist town at a pleasant boardwalk area that offered a selection of restaurants and pubs. They were built on a quay where fishing boats were docked — a nice atmosphere to end a day.

The last stop on this incredibly stimulating and exciting journey was St. Barts. This island is now French but it’s first colonizers were the Swedes and hence the name of the capital — Gustavia, named after King Gustav of Sweden. In season, this little island is one of the most up-market destinations for the well-heeled and well-to-do.

Our visit to St. Barts rather symbolized the cruise as a whole. We arrived in this very seasonal destination at the very end of the season. Almost all of the tourists that normally visit this island were gone. Gone too were the “Monte Carlo–class” yachts that line the harbor in season. A couple of restaurants were open, a few locals were moving around as they would in any small town and as in many small towns on a Sunday afternoon, almost all of the shops were closed.

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The glitzy shops that lined the harbor stood in contrast to so many of those humble merchants we’d met along the way in places like Vietnam. Here was the “real” Lacoste store just like the ones you’d see in the better parts of Los Angeles where this whole cruise started. But gone were the plastic-covered stalls at the pier in Vietnam where the same “brand” of shirt was being sold for one-tenth the price charged here. And unlike Vietnam, where anyone who had anything at all to sell seemed to show up because there was a ship in port, here the season was over, it was Sunday, and of course, the shops were closed.

The couple of bistros not closed were crowded with our guests and the Caribbean Sea was calm and warm.

The view from lunch.

The view from lunch.

It was all a bit emblematic of where in the course of this cruise we were, but it was still a very enjoyable last day in a lovely little place. As they say, a day in St. Barts — any day in St. Barts — is better than a day at the office!

Mike and Denise are future cruise consultants aboard Rotterdam.

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