July 24, 2024

Beach Browsing in the Caribbean

Guitar player at Grand Anse Beach.

Some of the most beautiful beaches in the world are found in the Caribbean, and an island-hopping cruise is an ideal way to sample them.  On a recent cruise out of San Juan, Puerto Rico aboard Celebrity’s Summit, I announced to my husband and our two teenaged sons that we would be hitting the beaches on this trip.

This was our sixth trip to the Caribbean and I was already familiar with the various historic and cultural attractions of these islands, having explored them thoroughly while researching and updating Caribbean By Cruise Ship. However, I had rarely paused to linger on these islands’ inviting palm-fringed beaches. This cruise would be different. When heading ashore at each port of call, I’d be packing a towel and sunscreen along with my camera and notebook, determined to sink my toes into some soft sand and swim in the warm turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea.

At a few ports of call I had to remind my husband, as he negotiated fares with eager taxi drivers keen to show us the sights, that we didn’t want to go anywhere except the beach.  Deciding which beach wasn’t easy, but rarely was I disappointed with our choice.  At some islands, a beautiful beach is within easy reach of the cruise terminal.  For instance, when docked at St. George, Grenada, you can take a water taxi to lovely Grand Anse Beach ($8 per person roundtrip). Just remember to head to the right when you disembark at the Grand Anse pier, even if the boat operator tells you to go to the left, unless you don’t mind being approached by peddlers before you’ve even picked a spot on the beach to plunk yourself.  After fending off a few overtures, the four or us did an about-face and marched in the other direction, past the water taxi pier, until we found a quiet spot to spread out our Celebrity beach towels and enjoy the beautiful scene of sand and sea.

At one point a young fellow in a crisp cotton shirt approached me with a tray holding little plastic cups of fruit punch and was about to offer me one when he realized I wasn’t part of a Celebrity Cruises’ shore excursion group that had just arrived at the beach on a catamaran.  Few people bothered us, except for a fellow with a guitar whose impression of Chuck Berry was so good we happily paid him a few dollars for his impromptu performance.

Great Bay Beach on St. Maarten.

St. Maarten is another island with a lovely beach easily accessible for cruise passengers. Although this half-Dutch/half-French island is famous for its abundance of beautiful beaches ringing the entire island, if your ship docks at Philipsburg it’s tempting to simply board the water taxi at the cruise terminal for the short ride to nearby Great Bay Beach ($6 for an all-day pass). One of the water taxi crew entertained us on the way there with a pitch-perfect rendition of I Can See Clearly Now. This put a smile on everyone’s face as we disembarked at Great Bay to enjoy the bright sun-shiny day.

Great Bay is a busy beach, with lots of vendors looking to sell their wares, but the atmosphere is upbeat. A boardwalk borders this long stretch of sand and is dotted with inviting beach bars and outdoor cafés. Behind the boardwalk is the bustling town of Philipsburg, its narrow cobblestone streets lined with shops selling duty free luxury goods and Caribbean souvenirs. After strolling the length of Front Street, we made our way down to the beach where we rented some beach chairs and settled in for a few hours of sunning and swimming. While lounging here, we watched two America’s Cup yachts sailing in the bay, their crew consisting of cruise passengers participating in one of St. Maarten’s most popular shore excursions. Then, when we figured we had gotten enough sun for one day, we caught one of the water taxis back to the cruise terminal where our ship awaited.

South Friars beach on St. Kitts island.

On St. Kitts the good beaches are a bit further away but it’s easy to arrange transportation with a taxi van operator at the cruise terminal.  We chose to ride with a young lady named Agatha Adams who charged us the going rate of $4 per person each way for the ride to South Friars Bay where we enjoyed the family atmosphere at this quiet beach. There are no hotels overlooking this small beach, which is a favourite with locals, and the modest facilities included beach chairs and snorkeling gear for rent.  Shade was provided by umbrellas made with palm fronds, which let the breezes flow through them. The change rooms were cabana-style huts, lending the place an authentic West Indian feel. A young man was offering foot massages using aloe vera leaves from plants growing in his back garden. Bill took him up on his offer and for $20 he garnered plenty of local knowledge while having his feet massaged with aloe vera oil.

We had asked Agatha to come back and get us at two o’clock, so at the appointed hour we reluctantly packed up our beach bags and left our little piece of paradise to see if she was waiting for us up at the road.  Sure enough, there she was standing beside her van, ready to drive us back to Basseterre where we strolled the streets for a short while before returning to the ship.

In my next blog, I’ll talk about the beautiful beaches we visited on Antigua, Barbados and St. Thomas.






Avatar photo About Anne Vipond

Anne Vipond is the author of several guidebooks to cruising destinations around the world. She draws on an extensive sailing background to impart her enthusiasm for cruise travel. From her home port of Vancouver, she travels by cruise ship to a wide range of destinations to keep her books current and useful for her cruise readers. Her cruising articles have been published in magazines and newspapers throughout North America and over seas.