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Port and Travel Tips
We’re closer to home this cruise and we think you’ll find navigating our ports easy, with many options for relaxation, recreation, or exploration.
We have posted the Holland America Excursions brochure, specifically tailored for our cruise. HAL excursions take care of all arrangements for you and ensure a well-managed, timely experience. We will let you know the date when excursion booking for our cruise will be made available on the HAL website. Please note that you will not be able to book excursions until this date.
We know many of you prefer to explore on your own. If you make your own arrangements, remember that ship staff cannot assist you with changes or challenges. The crew battens down the hatches in advance so that the ship actually pulls away at the appointed hour. You must be on board no less than a half-hour before departure time.
We are traveling to islands of different nationalities and borne of different heritages. They are all, however, regular American tourist destinations and will be easy to navigate.
Each island we’re visiting accepts U.S. currency and credit cards. All ports will have cash machines readily available. The best place on our cruise to use ATMs may be San Juan, as the fees should be the same as anywhere else in the U.S. Always be aware of foreign transaction fees at ATMs. Always advise your credit card company in advance of foreign travel. Half Moon Cay, owned and operated by Holland America, is a “cash-less society” extended from the ship: you will charge any expenses directly to your shipboard account.
At all regular ports it is possible to walk from the ship to go to the beach, do some shopping, and see some of the sights. In most cases, a short taxi or shuttle bus ride is the best way to get to the most popular or “authentic” locations, and to the best beaches. All transportation will be easily navigated in English. Half Moon Cay is the only port that uses tender ships to transfer to shore and they run continuously throughout our stay there.
Most of our ports feature world-class beaches that can be explored free of charge. On tourist beaches there are always opportunities to spend some money to make your beach trip more comfortable or more exciting.
Our weather should be just lovely, but always be prepared. Daytime temperatures should be in the 80s and the water is warm. Some areas have high humidity but rain is rare. As always, nights can be cool and at sea it can be windy and wet.
English is spoken in all ports. Some ports have other official languages. You will hear other languages and dialects to engage with as you like.
In general you will likely have mobile phone service while in port but not when at sea. International rates will likely apply. Be sure to check with your provider for their coverage locations and to determine if they have an agreement that includes service in the Caribbean.
Electrical service in our ports will generally be U.S. standard. The ship has U.S. and European standard power available throughout.
Jump to a port:
Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos Islands
Monday, March 16th:
arrive 8:00am, depart 3:00pm
The Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) consist of 40 islands and cays, eight of which are inhabited.
Grand Turk is the historical and political center of the TCI. It has 3,720 residents and was originally founded in 1681 by settlers from Bermuda for salt production. Cockburn Town has been the official seat of the country since 1766. The big popular resorts you may have heard about are spread among the other islands and cays.
TCI is located 550 miles southeast of Miami, just below the Bahamas and east of Hispaniola. Technically, TCI is located in the Atlantic Ocean, not the Caribbean Sea. Grand Turk is 7 miles long and 1.5 miles wide.
Average temperatures in March ranges from 80 to 84 degrees Fahrenheit. Water temperature is 74-78 degrees. The TCI averages 350 days of sunshine annually.
TCI residents are mostly descendants of Africans brought in to work the salt pans or cotton plantations. The expatriate population consists of British, Canadians, Americans, French, Bahamians, and people from Hispaniola.
Grand Turk is considered the most-likely spot of Columbus’s first encounter with the New World (other possibilities include San Salvador and Samana Cay). It is also the landing spot of astronaut John Glenn after the Mercury space mission in 1962. Many of the older buildings on Grand Turk reflect the island’s colonial and British-Bermudian heritage. This is best seen on Front Street and Duke Street in Cockburn Town. Donkeys and horses, first introduced during the salt-industry days, still roam freely. The islands are a British Colony. TCI has one of the lowest crime rates in the Caribbean.
From the ship there is an easy walk on the pier to the tourist shopping area. Here there is plentiful shopping, a Margaritaville entertainment venue, and a beach for sun-bathing and swimming. Use taxis or excursion buses to get to the “old town” and to truly astounding beaches for snorkeling and diving.
Taxis are available outside the Grand Turk Cruise Center. Be sure to confirm your fare before leaving: There is a set of fixed fares for trips FROM the Grand Turk Cruise Center, but not TO the Cruise Center. Fares range from $4 to $9 depending on distance.
Cockburn Town is located three miles from the cruise center and, once there, is easy to navigate by foot; most attractions are located on a three-quarter-mile strip of waterfront.
TCI cuisine was historically heavily centered on seafood and imported grains. Conch salad and conch fritters are popular dishes today. Some local plants, such as prickly pear bush and local okra, are also common ingredients.
Grand Turk is known for having some of the best diving and snorkeling in the world, thanks to its exceptional coral wall. Excursions offered via Holland America. Other options include: Oasis Divers’ Ultimate Snorkeling Adventure ($45/person, 1.5 hours); Blue Waters Divers ($225/person for single guided dive, dive instruction, and equipment rental. Early booking encouraged.)
There is fantastic snorkeling at a number of beaches along the island: they are easy to get to and the snorkeling is quite approachable. Wear water shoes as the beach is full of coral and rocks.
The Turks and Caicos National Museum: notable exhibits include thousand-year-old Lucayan artifacts and the Molasses Reef Wreck collection, where remains from the oldest European shipwreck (c. 1513) excavated in the Western Hemisphere can be seen. General museum access, $5; in-depth tour, $25. Museum is open one hour after the ship arrives and closes one hour prior to departure. Located in an 1800’s home on Front Street. Access via taxi.
Tipping is normally paid to waiters and taxi drivers. U.S. rates apply (15-20%).
Many artists live in TCI. Watercolor, oil painting, basket weaving, and other indigenous crafts are popular trades and well worth looking into when souvenir hunting.
The TCI flag once depicted an igloo because a map-maker in England confused salt mounds with igloos on a draft design sent to him. The flag design was used for about 100 years.
San Juan, Puerto Rico
Tuesday, March 17th:
arrive 12:00noon, depart 8:00pm
San Juan is the capital and largest city of Puerto Rico, with a population of about 395,326; Puerto Rico’s population is approximately 3.68 million. Puerto Rico is the largest U.S. territory. If it were a full state, it would be the 29th largest, between Oklahoma and Connecticut. San Juan is the oldest U.S. jurisdiction.
San Juan is known as La Ciudad Amurallada (the walled city). San Juan is the second oldest European-founded city in the Americas, established in 1521; Santo Domingo is the oldest, officially founded on August 5, 1498.
Puerto Rico is between the Caribbean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean, east of the Dominican Republic and about 1,000 miles southeast of Miami. It is almost rectangular in shape, approximately 100 miles long by 35 miles wide, and is the smallest and the most eastern island of the Greater Antilles (Cuba, Hispaniola, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico).
Average temperatures in March: highs in the mid-80s, lows in the mid-70s; low chance for rain. The relative humidity is high, about 80% throughout the year.
Puerto Rico is a rich melting pot of cultures; the strongest influences come from the Taino Indians, Spain, and Africa. The names of various towns and villages, foods, objects and domestic utensils all come from the Taino. Objects like the hammocks they used to sleep in can still be found in many Puerto Rican homes.
The principal legacy from the Spanish was Catholicism and the Spanish language; Africans brought the traditional bomba and plena dances, as well as the drum and the maraca.
Because Puerto Rico has been a U.S. territory since 1898, the island has adopted many U.S. traditions. Puerto Ricans have merged the Spanish language with English, creating “Spanglish.”
Puerto Rico is famous for its music. Its cultural and folk roots lie in bomba, plena, trova, and jibara rhythms. The island also boasts world-famous salsa, merengue, reggaeton, and pop artists.
Taxi: Make sure drivers turn on the meter; they won’t unless you tell them to. Meters charge $1.75 initially and $1.90 per mile thereafter. Call Metro Taxi Cabs (787-725-2870) or Rochdale Radio Taxi (787-721-1900); they usually come when you call.
From the ship it is very easy to explore San Juan on foot. There are shopping and entertainment opportunities right across the street. Walking around Old San Juan is advisable to really experience this bit of the Old World. (Note: streets are narrow, steep, and frequently heavy with traffic.)
Locals call their cuisine “cocina criolla” (Créole cooking). It is a blend of Spanish, African, Taíno, and American influences. Ingredients include coriander, papaya, cacao, and plantains. The most traditional dish is asopao, a hearty gumbo made with chicken or shellfish. Typical appetizers include bacalaitos (crunchy cod fritters), surullitos (sweet cornmeal fingers), and empanadillas (crescent-shaped turnovers filled with lobster, crab, conch, or beef).
A popular stew is carne guisada puertorriqueña (Puerto Rican beef stew). Ingredients might include green peppers, chile peppers, onions, garlic, cilantro, potatoes, olives, and capers. Meat pies (pastelón de carne) filled with salt pork and ham are staples of many dinners. Other typical main dishes include carne frita con cebolla (fried beefsteak with onions), ternera (veal a la parmesana), and roast leg of pork, ham, lamb, or veal. Roasted meats are cooked in the Créole style, flavored with adobo, which is made by crushing together peppercorns, oregano, garlic, salt, olive oil, and lime juice or vinegar, then rubbed into meats before they are roasted.
The Puerto Rico Tourism Company Information Center is located on the far west corner of La Marina street (across from Pier 1 and the Casita, a little yellow building). The bi-lingual staff can help with ideas and information about what is happening, hours of operation, directions, and suggestions for where to eat.
Old San Juan: a 465-year-old neighborhood originally conceived as a military stronghold, now a charming commercial district. The streets are paved with adoquine, a blue stone cast from furnace slag brought over on Spanish ships; time and moisture have lent them their characteristic color. San Juan as a whole includes more than 400 restored 16th- and 17th-century Spanish colonial buildings.
Plaza del Quinto Centenario opened October 12, 1992, as the cornerstone of Puerto Rico’s commemoration of the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ discovery of the New World. It houses a 40-foot-tall sculpture made by Jaime Suarez, one of Puerto Rico’s foremost artists.
Plaza de Armas is Old San Juan’s main square, on San José Street, and has served as a social meeting place for generations. It features four statues representing the four seasons.
Plaza de Hostos is located near La Casita. It features artisan displays, snack stands, and traditional piragüeros, who sell shaved-ice topped with tropical fruit syrup.
San Felipe El Morro Fortress: the most dramatic of all the city’s fortresses, named in honor of King Phillip II. Construction of this six-level fortress began in 1540 and was completed in 1589. The fortress rises 140 feet above the sea and its 18-foot-thick wall fell only once, in 1598, to the Earl of Cumberland. The fort is a maze of tunnels, dungeons, barracks, outposts, and ramps; the views of San Juan Bay are spectacular. It is the largest fortification in the Caribbean and located within the San Juan National Historic Site; open weekdays, 9am to 5pm. Adults: $5; children 15 and under: free.
San Juan Bay: the busiest ocean port in the Caribbean. Bayside shops carry everything from gold jewelry to island arts and crafts.
La Muralla (city wall): built to protect the city from enemy attacks. Its construction began in 1634 and its 20-foot-thick masonry walls were completed in 1782. From San Juan Gate, the last remaining of five gates into the walled city, you can see Isla de Cabras and a small Spanish fort, Fortin San Juan de la Cruz, across the bay.
Paseo La Princesa: a promenade lined with trees, pocket parks, sculptures, and benches that leads to a magnificent fountain with a bronze sculpture depicting the island’s cultural roots.
La Fortaleza: the first fortress built in Old San Juan, in 1533. It is the oldest governor’s mansion still in use in the Western Hemisphere. It is located within the San Juan National Historic Site; open weekdays, 9am to 5pm. Adults: $5; children 15 and under: free.
Catedral De San Juan: the second oldest cathedral in the Western Hemisphere; construction began in 1521. The Cathedral as seen today stems from 1917, when major restorations were done. It is an authentic, rare, New World example of medieval architecture. It contains the tomb of the island’s first governor, Juan Ponce de León, and is open to visitors 8:30am to 4pm daily. 151 Calle del Cristo.
El Yunque Rainforest is the only tropical rainforest that belongs to the U.S. forest service. Holland America offers excursions, it is about 45 minutes from the port.
Tipping is normally paid to waiters and taxi drivers. U.S. rates apply (15-20%).
Puerto Rico is in the Atlantic Time Zone, but does not observe Daylight Savings Time.
There are no customs duties on articles bought in Puerto Rico and taken to the U.S. mainland.
Both English and Spanish are the official languages.
More than 70% of the rum sold in the U.S. comes from Puerto Rico.
The Pirates of the Caribbean series was filmed in Puerto Rico.
You might be surprised to see many U.S. stores in town, such as The Gap, Macy’s, Marshall’s, Walgreen’s, and of course McDonald’s.
Philipsburg, St. Maarten
Wednesday, March 18th:
arrive 8:00am, depart 3:00pm
St. Maarten/St. Martin island was spotted by Christopher Columbus in 1493, but its real history began when French and Dutch settlers divided the island in 1648. They have lived side-by-side ever since. St. Maarten, governed by the Netherlands Antilles until 2010, is now a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands; St. Martin is part of the French West Indies.
Philipsburg is the capital of St. Maarten, the Dutch side of the island; it is 13 square miles. (The island as a whole is 37 square miles.) The population of St. Maarten is approximately 40,000.
Often referred to as the crossroads of the Caribbean, St. Maarten is located at the northern end of the Lesser Antilles, approximately 150 miles southeast of Puerto Rico. Philipsburg is four streets wide and one mile long, squeezed between Great Bay, where the cruise ships dock, and Salt Pond, where salt was made many years ago.
English, French, Dutch, and Spanish are the most commonly used languages. Local dialects are Creole and Papiemento.
Average temperatures in March: highs in the mid-80s, lows in the mid-70s; low chance of rain.
When the Spanish closed their colonial fort on St. Maarten in 1648, a few Dutch and French soldiers hid on the island and decided to share it. Soon after, the Netherlands and France signed a formal agreement to split St. Maarten in half, as it is today. Philipsburg displays its Dutch heritage in its architecture and landscaping.
Today, over 80 different nationalities are represented on the island. Most locals live a middle- or upper-class life. The economic success of St. Maarten, with its policy of open borders, turned it into a magnet for workers from neighboring islands. Many residents of St. Maarten/St. Martin are expatriates from other Caribbean islands who planned to stay only a short time, but are still living on the island years later.
Taxi: Taxi operators in St. Maarten are under government regulation. Passengers at the port facility line up under signs designating per-person rates and destinations, which range from one-way rides to Philipsburg to full island tours. Charges are based on two passengers and destination. Additional passengers cost extra. Approximately $3.00 per person, each way.
Water Taxi: A water taxi operates between the cruise pier and the heart of downtown Philipsburg; the cost is reasonable, and a round-trip discount is often available. Approximately $7.00 per person, round-trip.
Walking: It’s a 20-minute walk (less than a mile) to downtown Philipsburg from port. It’s a long walk along the pier, but after that there are a lot of shops and the beach close by.
Lunch in St. Maarten can vary from an authentic Caribbean meal and casual beachfront fare on the boardwalk to an extravagant culinary sensation.
Chesterfield’s: Located on Dock Maarten, about a five-minute walk from port, Chesterfield’s has a great view and low-key fare like burgers, sandwiches, seafood, and kebabs. (Great Bay Marina, Philipsburg, St. Maarten)
The Greenhouse: The Greenhouse features a big menu of steak, ribs, lobsters, and fresh fish. The restaurant boasts its status as the number-one seller of Angus beef in St. Maarten and St Thomas, but the real treat here is the lobster. (Bobby’s Marina at the head of Philipsburg )
Barefoot Terrace: Perhaps the most authentic Caribbean restaurant on the boardwalk. Try traditional saltfish or a sandwich made with “Johnny cake,” a Caribbean biscuit, for breakfast, and roti, curry chicken, oxtail stew, or a jerk burger for lunch. (Cyrus Wathey Square Boardwalk, Philipsburg, St. Maarten)
L’Escargot Restaurant: Joel and Sonya have been serving traditional French food in their colorful Créole cottage on Front Street for almost 40 years. The restaurant serves escargot, soups, salads, and French classics like frog legs, duck, and coq au vin. (96 Front Street)
Best cocktail: Guavaberry Sunrise, made from the tart berry of the local guavaberry fruit. It is woody, fruity, spicy, and bittersweet in flavor. Sample it for free at the Guavaberry Emporium while shopping for rum, liqueur, and hot sauces. (No. 8-10 Front Street, Philipsburg)
Chocolate: The truffles and bonbons from The Belgian Chocolate Box make great souvenirs. There are more than 75 flavors to choose from, including Grand Marnier, guavaberry, raspberry, coffee bean, and cognac. (109 Old Street, Philipsburg)
Shopping: Philipsburg’s main drags are Front and Back streets, but the charming side streets and alleys are also crammed with duty-free jewelry shops, electronics, and liquor. We have been told that this is the best shopping port on our cruise.
Great Bay Boardwalk: The boardwalk along Great Bay has an extensive beachfront where you can rent chairs and umbrellas, buy souvenirs, enjoy a picnic at the many thatched-roof picnic tables, enjoy the crystal blue water, or eat at one of the dozens of restaurants and bars.
Orient Bay: It’s on the French side, so you’ll have to take a land or water taxi, but Orient Bay is one of the Caribbean’s more famous beaches, packed with bars and souvenir shops. If you’re feeling adventurous, head to Club Orient, the only nudist beach on the island.
Marigot, St. Martin: The capital of the French St. Martin is filled with designer boutiques and fabulous restaurants, bistros, and cafes. Marigot Market, a daily open-air market along the waterfront, features just-caught seafood right off the boat, fresh fruit and vegetables, spices, clothing, locally made jewelry, and island souvenirs.
Beaches: There are 37 white-sand beaches on the island (one every square mile).
Best Beach for Convenience: Great Bay, which parallels Front Street.
Best Beach for Water Sports: Little Bay, just around the bend to the south of Great Bay. It’s a tiny beach, especially at high tide, but it’s great for escaping the crowds at Great Bay. Also good for snorkeling, jet-skiing, parasailing, and paddleboating.
Holland America offers an exciting excursion which affords you the opportunity to sail an actual America’s Cup Regatta boat, you can even help crew the vessel.
The island is a good stop for recreation, at reasonable costs: catamarans, “rhino rider” boats for 2 people to take out to snorkeling locations, rent a bicycle to ride over to the French side. Holland America offers excursions for these activities and to get to the better beaches. You may, however, be able to make these arrangements on your own fairly easily.
For those less active, a fantastic Butterfly Farm is another recommended site to visit.
All St. Maarten is duty-free. Not all St. Martin is.
There is no border check or passport required to pass from one country to the other on the island.
St. Maarten/St. Martin is the world’s smallest island inhabited by two countries.
Half Moon Cay, Bahamas
Friday, March 20th:
arrive 8:00am, depart 3:00pm
Okay, so you might not be a beach lover. We understand that. But if you were ever to try it out, this is the place. The beach is stunning, a great place to swim or just relax and rejuvenate. Give it a try. You can always come right back on board.
Half Moon Cay is unlike any port of call we’ve visited on our APHC cruises. It is a private island owned and operated by Holland America. It is a lot like being onboard, with all the service and convenience, except with sand and surf.
You can enjoy the beach at your leisure without expense, it is within sight of the ship. The ship’s culinary staff serves a BBQ lunch on shore. There are beach chairs, a children’s water park, older kid activities like beach volleyball, and walking trails. All at no extra cost.
There are many ways to make your stay on the island more comfortable, more exciting, or even downright luxurious. There is a pirate ship bar/restaurant on the beach, purchases are made through your shipboard account. “Clamshell” sunshades can be rented. Cabanas and Villas are rentable with various levels of food, beach gear, and personal service included. Various activities may be arranged at a reasonable fee: snorkeling, biking, horse-back riding on HAL’s own horses, kayaking, riding personal watercraft, eco-tours by foot or tram, and even swimming with sting-rays!
All activities are well-run, safe, and clean — the employees there take great pride in their work. There are over 40 people living and working on the island full-time, responsible for operating the various attractions and services, maintenance, and service. If you were ever tempted to swim with horses or sting-rays, or have never run a jet-ski, this is a safe place to try it.
Ship staff embark upon arrival, including food and supplies. They provide all food and beverage services.
Some equipment and activities are limited. Cabanas and Villas will sell out. Reserve them online in advance if you are interested. You will also receive a Half Moon Cay Order Form on board ship. If you fill this out in advance, everything will be ready for you when you arrive on the island.
Getting to the island requires a quick trip on one of the island’s own tender vessels. These are larger tenders than the one the ship travels with: they have two decks and hold 400 people. They run continuously throughout our stay. From the dock, all activities are easily walk-able. The BBQ lunch location and some other attractions are a bit more of a walk; trams are available.
Beach towels are provided onboard ship to take with you for the day.
There is no need for cash or credit cards on Half Moon Cay, just bring your cruise ID card. All expenses–equipment rentals, bar, personal services, activities–are charged directly to your shipboard account.
There is a Bahamian wedding chapel on the island. They do conduct actual Renewal of Vows ceremonies, which can be arranged in advance.
We will be the only ship in port that day, so we will have our run of the place and plenty of opportunity to enjoy all their offerings.
For those of you who have sailed with us before, this is the first time we have sailed on one of HAL’s Vista class ships. While larger, we think you will find the ship surprisingly intimate. There are more areas to explore, to sit with friends, or to participate in an activity with your shipmates. Many of the “public” gathering areas are grouped on Decks 2 and 3, where you will find the night-life spots on this ship. The Spa is larger and offers more services. There is much more room to lounge on various outer decks, a big bonus for this cruise. The Explorations Café (coffee, internet, library) is now up on the top deck, sharing the Crow’s Nest space. Club HAL has a great space and there is an outdoor basketball court. And you’ll be happy to know that you can get from fore to aft on every deck!
In general, from bottom to top:
Deck 1: hotel and excursion desks, cabins, showroom access
Deck 2: dining room, lounges and bars, Pinnacle Grill, casino, showroom
Deck 3: dining room, shops, art gallery, photos, promenade, showroom
Decks 4 through 8 are all cabins without any “public” gathering areas
Deck 9: Aft Pool, Lido Restaurant and Canaletto Grill, Lido Pool, Spa
Deck 10: Crow’s Nest, Explorations Café, Observation Deck