Although vacationing on a cruise ship isn’t my personal cup of tea, I have done it once and understand the allure. Free food 24/7. Sampling many Caribbean destinations in a compact time frame. Letting someone else make all the decisions. I get it. Cruises are holidays you can enjoy on auto-pilot.
So if you happen to enjoy sailing the high seas, sipping expensive cocktails and playing pool volleyball with strangers, go forth and make merry my Caribbean loving sisters and brothers. It’s all good.
And since cruise ships are a regular fixture on Caribbean islands, islanders stand ready to welcome you on the daily across the tropics.
Ahoy and welcome ashore!
But … before you put one espadrille-clad foot onto the gangway at your first port o’ call, here are a few tips to consider. Because you don’t want to be THAT cruiser, do you?
Tip 1: Choose your outfit wisely.
The vast majority of cruisers inherently understand the concept of dressing for the occasion. To them I offer a hearty THANK YOU! Unfortunately, a few never got the memo. Hence the need for this gentle reminder.
I know, I know. You’re on vacay and you are going to wear your swimsuit, damn it. I don’t blame you. After all, the other 51 weeks, you’re stuck in climates where swimwear is either just not appropriate or only makes its debut for a few precious weeks mid-summer.
But as you pick out your shoreside attire for the day, please try to remember you are visiting somebody else’s home. Yes, people actually do live year-round on these rocks. Crazy, right? I know. My head is spinning, too!
Go ahead and put on that cute swimsuit you bought especially for the trip. You go, vacationer, you! But for the love of all that is holy, cover it up! Preferably with something that is NOT SEE-THROUGH.
The sheer, matching cover-up you bought with your swimsuit is perfect for lounging poolside on a ship chaise as Miguel or Sven brings you another fruity umbrella drink. It will also be ideal for relaxing at one of the beautiful sand beaches in your current port o’ call. But you know where it is wildly inappropriate? On the streets of any Caribbean town.
That “sharp-inhaling-through-clenched-teeth” noise you hear behind you? It is not a scout for America’s Next Top Model hurrying in the Caribbean heat to catch up to you and offer a spot on next season’s show. It is the sound of irritated locals offended by your obliviousness to their culture.
While it may come as a surprise, most Caribbean islands do not model themselves after Hedonism resorts. To the contrary, most islands are quite modest. And their residents most definitely save their bikini modeling for the actual beach.
Oh, and if understanding this isn’t enough, consider this fun fact: Everybody has a smartphone these days. You never know when someone is surreptitiously snapping a photo of you from behind and preparing to post it on social media with hashtags like #canyoubelievethis #didntlookinamirror #cruisetourist #WTF. Do you really want to be Instagram trending for all the wrong reasons?
If you are not sure what is appropriate attire for your day in port, allow me to offer some sartorial suggestions. You can never go wrong with shorts and a (non-revealing) tank top or t-shirt. Cute sundresses are also a win (for the ladies, anyway). Gentlemen, your Speedo as a standalone garment is NEVER appropriate attire. Not even when you pair it with a nice polo shirt. (I’ll save my “all Speedos should be burned in the sixth circle of hell” blog for another day.)
Tip 2: Remember the laws of physics.
So here’s some shocking news you might not believe. Cars and trucks in the Caribbean tend to travel at slightly more reckless speeds than back in your home country. Add in the ubiquitous potholes that resemble the Grand Canyon and it can make driving here like unwittingly joining a Nascar event.
Yes, it seems like great fun to rent any of the following to explore our rustic islands: a) a golf cart, b) an electric egg or c) a scooter. After all, that refreshing sea breeze blowing through your hair can’t be beat. Nor is there a better way to get up-close-and-personal with the flora and fauna that inhabit our rocks (possibly closer than you wish).
You will be the captain of your own island adventure! Imagine the possibilities! You undoubtedly believe the question should be … why wouldn’t anyone opt for a more unconventional mode of transportation for a day in port?
Here’s why. Because the laws of physics work exactly the same here as they do where you come from. In any collision that involves a car/truck vs. something smaller, guess who wins? You guessed it. Not you.
Also, the laws of driving (and reactions of other drivers) generally work the same here, too. If you are obstructing traffic while channeling your Easy Rider persona, for God’s sake pull over and let people going the actual speed limit (or faster) pass you.
This is especially true for the taxi vans. They get paid by the number of trips they take shuttling people to/from the beaches (a fact you probably never considered). They have zero interest in being held up by anyone. Especially tourists in golf carts/eggs/scooters occupying the middle of the road and doing 10 under the speed limit while studying their wrinkled, sweat-soaked island map trying to figure out where the hell they are.
HINT: You are on a tiny island. Just keep following the road you’re on. It will eventually lead you back to the ship. It will be that hulking white thing you can see from virtually everywhere else on the rock. A gleaming beacon, beckoning you home.
If you see a taxi van approaching your rear end at the speed of light, move over. Immediately.
Also, if you happen to be tooling about on busy roads during peak travel times, remember there are islanders all around you just trying to get on with their lives. Much like you the other 51 weeks of your year. It may surprise you to learn that we all aren’t on a permanent, umbrella drink-filled vacation here. (Nobody is sadder about this fact than me.)
Sometimes we have to cram errands into our lunch breaks. Or we just want to go home after a long day at work. We do not want to be an unwilling participant in the golf cart/scooter/egg parade you are leading as you take up the entire roadway while traveling under the speed limit. Still looking for the cruise ship.
Oh, and one last thing. Renting a golf cart/egg/scooter does not exempt you from Tip 1. Some things we simply cannot unsee.
Tip 3: Act like you would at home.
Here’s a crazy thought. Those quaint Caribbean main streets you love to stroll and browse are also home to actual functioning businesses. You know, like law firms, accountants and real estate offices. Ones that don’t necessarily cater to cruise ship tourists. (Unless you’re planning to start a local business or buy a second home while you’re in port.)
Don’t worry if you think you might be confused. You can tell these businesses apart from the souvenir shops, as these businesses won’t have window displays filled with colourful tote bags, shot glasses and clothing items bearing the island’s name. Trust me, you’ll know the difference.
And just like you wouldn’t dream of wandering into a lawyer’s office back home to cool off or ask for their Wi-Fi code or bathroom, we have surprisingly similar expectations here in the islands. You just shouldn’t do it.
Lawyers, accountants and real estate brokers (or at least their beleaguered receptionists) don’t have the time or inclination to explain to you that they don’t a) rent movies, b) have free island maps or c) offer complimentary welcome beverages. All questions those working the front desks have fielded in the past.
Just stroll a little further and you will find a bar, coffee shop or retail store clamouring for your business. Hit them up for your needs while in port. (Yes, you may need to purchase something to use their amenities, but hey … island businesses are not part of your cruise’s all-inclusive offer.)
Now, please don’t take these tips as suggestions that cruise ship tourists are not welcome on Caribbean islands. To the contrary, islanders love sharing their special rocks with visitors, no matter how they arrive. By plane. By boat. By semi-submersible submarine. It’s all good.
But if you want to be a really great guest (even if just for one day), following these tips will make your time here totally enjoyable. For everyone.
I’m a writer living on the Dutch Caribbean island of Bonaire. Originally from the U.S., I followed my heart to the tropics in 2011 at the wizened age of 43. Since then, I’ve been blogging to inspire and entertain. I love kitesurfing, a good gin & tonic, and corgis.
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