- Port Notes
- Reading List
- Notes from GK
- Your Stories
Follow along with our cruise journal for photos, videos, and notes from on board the Westerdam
Greetings, fellow travelers!
We look forward to traveling with you once again! The Caribbean is an exciting destination for our team: lots of plants, lots of marine life, lots of birds, and lots of political history and intrigue!
Here are some recommendations from the lecturers and naturalists. Between music and performances, perhaps we’ll see you at some of the lectures or on deck searching for Caribbean wildlife. Or better yet, perhaps you’ll simply be found lounging in the sun with a good book in your hands.
Natalie, Rich, Lytton, and Jon
Rich, the bird guy, has some recommendations on all things bird and ecology
Birds of the West Indies (2003) by Herbert Raffaele, James Wiley, Orlando Garrido, Allan Keith, and Janis Raffaele. Published in the Princeton Field Guides series, this book is Rich’s new favorite for the region.
A Birder’s West Indies: An Island-by-Island Tour (1996) by Ronal H. Wauer. This book is dated but could still be the best available. For birders interested in exploring on their own, this may be a useful reference.
Birds of the West Indies, Peterson Field Guides, by James Bond. This was the first, and for a long time the best, field guide to the region. The lives of James Bond the ornithologist and James Bond the secret agent are intertwined.
National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, sixth edition (2011) by Jon L. Dunn and Jonathan Alderfer. Rich’s go-to guide for North America! Many of the birds we will see in the eastern Caribbean are North American migrants, covered by this guide.
Florida’s Birds: A Handbook and Reference (2005) by David S. Maehr and Herbert W. Kale II. For people who like field guides for wherever they travel, this book goes into greater local depth than the National Geographic book.
Other natural history resources
Wildlife of the Caribbean (2014) by Herbert A. Raffaele and James W. Wiley. If you were going to buy just one book to begin learning about the natural history for our cruise, this is it.
A Neotropical Companion (1997) by John Kricher. This book could easily be a primer for an undergraduate class on the ecology of Latin American, including the Caribbean. A charming, very readable introduction to the plants, animals, and ecosystems of the New World tropics.
Reptiles and Amphibians of the Eastern Caribbean (2007) by Anita Malhotra and Roger S. Thorpe. With more than 100 herps in the Caribbean, this is your guide to putting a name to everything that slinks and crawls.
National Audubon Society Regional Guide to Atlantic and Gulf Coasts: A Personal Journey (1997) by William H. Amos and Stephen H. Amos. This is a comprehensive guide to the birds, plants, seashore creatures, fishes, whales, and other natural wonders of North America’s eastern shores, from the St. Lawrence to the Gulf of Mexico. Although its main emphasis is on the United States, it does cover a majority of species we will encounter on this trip.
Island Peak to Coral Reef: A Field Guide to the Plant and Marine Communities of the Virgin Islands (2005) by Toni Thomas and Barry Devine. This book is a guide the natural communities of terrestrial plants and marine organisms of the Virgin Islands.
Puerto Rico & Virgin Islands Wildlife Viewing Guide (2000) by David Nellis. This book will help you find some of the locales deemed best for viewing wildlife.
Natalie’s favorites about the Caribbean Sea and the critters that make it home for part or all of the year
A Traveller’s History of the Caribbean (2008) by James Ferguson. Not a field guide, obviously, but a useful overview of the region, including slavery, colonialism, and independence, to help us understand the political diversity of the Caribbean islands and the role other nations played in shaping the region’s past, and thus, its present.
Coral Reefs and Fish
Are you planning on going snorkeling on a shore excursion or on your own? A field guide to coral reefs and Caribbean fish will help you get more out of your experience! Some of my favorites for the region:
Marine Life of the Caribbean (2002) by Alick Jones and Nancy Sefton. This is a great overview organized around habitats and what you might see within each. Great pictures and small enough to pack.
Guide to Marine Life, Caribbean, Bahamas, and Florida (1996) by Marty Snyderman and Clay Wiseman. This wonderful tome (and it is a bit big for travel) covers the diversity of animals in the Caribbean and the strategies they have developed to survive.
If your focus is purely coral reef identification, the REEF guides (2014) by Paul Humann are the go-to guides for underwater critters in Florida, the Caribbean, and the Bahamas. For a lot of detail, select volumes specific to Fish, Creatures, or Coral. For a more cursory overview of just the fish (not corals or other critters), consider Reef Fish in-a-Pocket or Reef Fish Identification Travel Edition.
Another option for snorkeling is to take along a Waterproof identification card by Seahawk Press, which includes images of the most common species and their names, all on one card for quick reference, including:
- Marine Invertebrates of the Tropical Atlantic
- Shells: Tropical Atlantic, Caribbean, and the Gulf of Mexico
- Reef Fishes of the Tropical Atlantic
Marine Mammals and Turtles
The National Audubon Society Guide to Marine Mammals of the World (2002) by Brent S. Stewart, Phillip J. Clapham, James A. Powell, and Randall R. Reeves. Illustrated by Pieter Folkens. No matter where I travel in this world of oceans, hands down this is my favorite guide to whales, dolphins, porpoises, seals, and other marine mammals.
Whales, Dolphins, and Other Marine Mammals of the World (2006) by Hadoram Shirihai and Brett Jarrett. This title from Princeton Field Guides is Rich’s new favorite for identifying the charismatic megafauna of the marine world, and I have to agree, it is fantastic.
Whale (2006) by Joe Roman. Whales have inspired humans for millennia. This pocket-sized book traces the relationship between humans and whales, from Jonah to Moby-Dick to “Save the Whales” to the modern whale hunt. Full of great illustrations too.
The Bottlenose Dolphin: Biology and Conservation (2013) by John E. Reynolds, Samantha D. Eide, and Randall S. Wells. Everything you wanted to know about this amazing creature by some of the world’s leading dolphin researchers.
Lytton, our cruise botanist, has some recommendations on plants, spices, and the British Empire
Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World (2008) by Dan Koeppel. What is more benign than a banana? Yet this now ubiquitous fruit fostered violent regime changes, rampant imperialism (think Banana Republics), and environmental degradation. At present, banana and plantain cultivation is threatened by a narrow genetic base and increased pressure from a rapidly evolving pathogen. This well-written book traces the cultivation of banana from its introduction in Central America from the Far East to its possible demise in the near future.
Outposts: Journeys to the Surviving Relics of the British Empire (2004) by Simon Winchester. Written by the author of the award-winning The Professor and the Madman. In the same engaging style, this volume documents Winchester’s visits to the remaining fragments of the British Empire. His descriptions of St. Helena, Ascension Island, the Falkland Islands, and other flotsam and jetsam of the empire are great reading. Cruisers will be especially interested in his discussion of the Turks and Caicos where we will be visiting.
Dangerous Tastes: The Story of Spices (2002) by Andrew Dalby. Much of the history and development of the Caribbean region was predicated on the introduction and cultivation of exotic plants, among them sugarcane and spices. The Caribbean is the leading source of nutmeg but also produces numerous other spices, almost all of which are native to other tropical regions. Allspice, however, is indigenous and one of the few New World spices grown on a commercial scale. The author describes the botany, history, and uses of spices. A fascinating read for anyone interested in spices and the Caribbean.
Cruise lecturer Jon Wiant is a retired spy with a passion for espionage and politics. Here are some of his suggestions for our Caribbean adventure
For Your Eyes Only (2012) by Ben Macintyre. Macintyre is a great writer of intelligence history, and he brings his same witty style to the Bond story. You are also encouraged to read one of Fleming’s novels set in the Caribbean. I recommend Dr. No and Thunderball. Enjoy the novels; they are quite superior to the movies.
The Brilliant Disaster: JFK, Castro, and America’s Doomed Invasion of Cuba’s Bay of Pigs (2011) by Jim Rasenberger. This is the most recent and best study of the bungled Bay of Pigs operation. (Available in print and Kindle edition.) For those looking for a quick brief, the Wikipedia Bay of Pigs and related section on Castro assassination attempts are recommended.
The Politics of Cocaine (2010) by William L. Marcy. There is a ton of literature on this subject, including voluminous government reports, firsthand law enforcement accounts, and smuggler’s tales. Marcy looks at how politics has shaped this problem and made it such an attractive financial propositions for both sides of the conflict.
Cruise lecturer and in-house diplomat Frank Almaguer loves the historical and cultural diversity of the Caribbean. He suggests that cruise participants do some research about the region:
A good map is always convenient. There are thousands of islands that are surrounded by the Caribbean Sea or located in the nearby Lucayan Archipelago, where the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos are located. The islands encompass 13 independent nations (including the Bahamas) and almost 20 territorial dependencies of the U.S. (including Puerto Rico), France (including the northern two-thirds of Saint Martin), the Netherlands (including the southern third of Saint Martin, or Sint Maarten in Dutch), and Great Britain (including Turks and Caicos). A good map is the National Geographic’s Caribbean Classic (2014), which is updated periodically. Websites for the islands that we will be visiting often include detailed maps of each of the islands.
A good source for the history and culture of the region is Empire’s Crossroads: A History of the Caribbean from Columbus to the Present Day (2014) by British-American author Carrie Gibson. The author of this new book offers a comprehensive view of the region, including its rich history, the clash among colonial powers, the introduction of slavery, and the region’s historic dependence on a few cash crops (tobacco, sugar, and, more recently, tourism). It puts in context the vibrant mixture of cultures, religions, and people — Africans, Europeans, Asians, and American indigenous groups — who created the diverse Creole society (i.e., people of mixed races) who today make up the majority of the region’s population.
For those interested in the pre-Colombian period, a useful source is The Tainos: Rise and Decline of the People Who Greeted Columbus (1992) by Irving Rouse, a noted anthropologist and archeologist. The “Tainos” were one of several Amerindian groups who inhabited the region in pre-Columbian times. These groups (including the “Caribs,” who gave their name to the region) disappeared soon after Columbus’s arrival due to diseases introduced by the Europeans, forced labor, and dispersal. The Tainos were the principal inhabitants of the northern half of the Caribbean.
Puerto Rico has a unique place in history. Under Spanish control for 400 years and under U.S. jurisdiction since 1898, today, with more than 3.5 million people (not including the Puerto Rican diaspora in the U.S.), the island is one of the largest remaining dependent territories in the world. Puerto Rico in American History: From Many Cultures One History (2008) by Richard Worth and Puerto Rico in the American Century: A History since 1898 (2007) by César Ayala and Rafael Bernabe connect the island’s economic, political, cultural, and social past to today.