Although we officially launched in September 2023, Journey into Darkness has been more than a year in the making. So when Feedspot emailed to inform us that this blog has been identified as one of the Top 100 Travel Blogs we were rather thrilled.
Admittedly we’re only number 74 on the list of Top 100 Travel Blogs, but this still feels like a massive achievement. Particularly when you consider how crowded the travel blog niche is.
So it’s a big thank you to you, our readers, and to the Feedspot panel who selected Journey into Darkness. And please do share a link with your friends and family if you come across a useful tip that may help them.
Have you ever tried to find a Center Parcs discount code? Good luck – they don’t exist. The brand is so successful they rarely (if ever) offer discounts.
In fact, the Center Parcs Black Friday ‘deal’ is particularly lame – free rental for 2 x adult bikes. But only for breaks taken between Monday 8 January 2024 and Monday 5 February 2024.
This Center Parcs discount is worth £84. To claim, you must book today(30th November 2023) and select ‘Free adult cycles x2’ during the checkout process This option only appears when making a booking for a break between the specified dates.
However, American Express Gold card holders can boost their savings using one of their Amex offers. Cardholders are being offered a £75 statement credit when they spend £1000 or more on a Center Parcs holiday.
Note that the Amex Center Parcs discount can be used for any dates next year including school holidays. However, you must make your booking before December 16th 2023. The offer is only available to the first 8,000 account holders to save it to their card*. Obviously you will also need to pay for the holiday using your Amex Gold card – but you will also earn one transferrable reward point for every £1 you spend.
These are not earth-shattering savings, but if you’re planning a new year trip to Center Parcs, the £159 saving may be welcome.
Want to take advantage of this Center Parcs discount but don’t yet hold an American Express Gold card? You can use my Amex referral link to earn a 30,000 rewards points sign-up bonus too.
The British Airways A380 is a wondrous beast, even in economy. We watch in awe as the huge bird lumbers along the runway, straining all four engines to lift its enormous bulk into the night sky.
What’s good about the BA A380
The A380 has some great features:
The seat-side storage compartment is brilliant.
Seat 83J is actually comfortable and I do manage to nap for a while.
Despite being full, the economy World Traveller cabin does not run out of overhead locker space.
What’s wrong with BA’s A380
Despite being an engineering marvel, there are a few problems with BA’s A380 economy World Traveller offering:
The armrests in seats 83J and 83K cannot be raised. This is a massive issue for Linda who cannot edge sideways – especially once the seats in front have been reclined.
The headphone sockets in seats 83J and 83K have both been damaged, rendering the inflight entertainment (IFE) system borderline unusable.
There are no adjustable air vents on the plane, so you have one temperature for the whole cabin – unlucky if you’re stressed and sweaty when you board (me).
The food is pretty pants – particularly the cheese, ham and egg bagel we are served for breakfast.
In the middle of the night Linda and I have to trade seats because she cannot get back into 83J – there’s simply not enough room to move (and she hurt herself getting out in the first place). Other than that, the flight is pretty good – as is usually the case when we fly British Airways.
What the hell Heathrow?
Arriving at Heathrow and we’re straight back into airport hell. Rather than fight with the masses, we hold back until everyone has disembarked and then make our way to the door expecting to find Linda’s scooter waiting for us as promised in Miami. But it’s not there.
Instead, a porter collects Linda in a wheelchair and takes her down the ramp, desperately running behind in an attempt to not lose control. At the bottom he sends me back to collect her scooter. Which is not there.
After waiting a few minutes he’s had enough and loads us into a golf buggy-style vehicle. It’s very narrow and cramped as the porter steers us through various lifts and tunnels below the Heathrow Airport taxiways. We get to use a dedicated passport control lane which is nice – and much, much faster than the dreaded ePassport gates that never work properly.
Reaching the porters’ station, Linda is decanted into another wheelchair and a female helper wheels her to the luggage collection belts. We wait. And wait. And wait. And wait.
A full hour after we landed, suitcases finally begin to circulate along the conveyor belt. It takes an age before a luggage handler appears with Linda’s scooter. And another age for our bags to emerge between the plastic flaps that hide the inner workings of the airport. We are among the last to leave the carousel and one woman is still waiting for her scooter to reappear.
It feels like Heathrow is in a race to the bottom with Luton and Stansted.
Fortunately we have time to kill; our National Express coach doesn’t leave until 14:40. Luggage secured, we have to kill some more time sat in the Arrivals lobby of Heathrow Terminal 5.
5.5 hours of Express
At the appointed hour we spot our coach at the same time the driver spots us. By some miracle, National Express has delivered on their promise. They have actually informed him that a lady with a scooter will be boarding – and he’s ready and able to help load luggage. Then it’s off into central London to catch a second bus to our final destination and waiting lift – Braintree.
Again, both legs of the coach journey are pretty good and almost on time. Our route takes us through the centre of the City of London, so we get to see some more familiar sights, including Parliament, Whitehall and the Bank of England. We have interim stops at Stratford (where the driver is involved in a row with a random man who demands access without a valid ticket) and Stansted Airport (where he enters a heated discussion with a passenger about Hungarian President Viktor Orban’s policies).
The downside of the journey is that by the time we finally get home, we’ve been travelling for nearly 24 hours – and it feels like it too.
Final thoughts on the MIA-LHR journey
National Express coaches are a feasible transfer option for both ports and airports – just make sure to pay for extras in advance. Linda says she would definitely use National Express again.
The British Airways A380 is an amazing plane – but it has some serious design flaws for mobility-impaired passengers.
Airports have absolutely no idea what they are doing in terms of security or transport of mobility aids.
There’s only really one item on our to do list – the Hard Rock Café at Miami Bayside. In fact, back when we first planned this trip, the only reason for staying an extra day in Miami was to visit the HRC.
This gives us the opportunity to waste the morning, watching Tottenham lose to Aston Villa on TV before we have to check out of the Sheraton at 11am. Down in reception, we leave our suitcases with the concierge, promising to collect them this evening.
Outside, the heat hits us like a wall. Thankfully it is only a short walk to the metro station, although we have to take a couple of elevators to get to the platform.
Top tip: Don’t forget – all public transport in Miami is free until December 31st 2023
When we arrive on the platform, there is a train already waiting, so Linda launches her scooter through the nearest door just in case it is about to leave. It isn’t. Shortly after the journey begins, our driver informs us that the trip will terminate at the next station. So we disembark at Earlington Heights and wait for a ‘Green’ line train to take us the rest of the way into the city.
Top tip: The gap between platform and Miami Metro train door looks large but Linda found in most cases it can be crossed on the scooter – with a decent run-up.
At Historic Overtown/Lyric Theatre we navigate another couple of lifts back to street level. Then it’s a half mile walk/scoot east towards the sea. The buildings here are tall and uninspiring. There is also quite a few roadworks and diversions to navigate on the way.
Crossing several roads and navigating the traffic jam caused by the five cruise ships docked in the Port of Miami, we finally make it to Miami Bayside. It is extremely touristy, packed with people trying to look like they are having a good time. There’s plenty of restaurants and bars, along with a few different stores (clothing, cosmetics, shoes, cigars, souvenirs etc). After messing around with lifts, we finally make it to the upper level and drop into the Bath & Bodyworks store. Linda succumbs to the hand soap again and buys five – at least our bathroom will smell good for a while.
We then trundle down to the Miami Hard Rock Café on the other side of Miami Bayside which involves more lifts, but eventually we are seated at a table. The service is fast and attentive, although I swear these are the smallest burgers we’ve had at any HRC in the world. What happened to the legend about super-sized portion sizes in the USA? Linda is quite excited to see the Electric Blue cocktail back on the menu – it seems to have disappeared from all the European restaurants. I enjoy my vanilla milkshake for dessert.
In the gift shop Linda gets the ubiquitous pin badge – and a Christmas tree decoration. For some reason everything in store is 20% off – just don’t forget to add tax to the ticket price when trying to figure out how much something really costs.
Top tip: At the time of writing, the sales tax rate in Florida is 7%. So don’t forget to add an additional 7% to any prices advertised on goods for sale at Miami Bayside.
We dither for a while, trying to find something else to do. We still have a few hours before we have to collect our luggage from the Sheraton and go to the airport. Finding nothing however, we meander slowly back to the metro and return to the hotel to sit in the air conditioned lobby for a while.
At this point, the first major snag of the day occurs – I have lost the ticket for luggage collection. It takes some negotiating (and a $5 bill) to convince the concierges that the specified suitcases are ours.
Top tip: Snap a pic of your luggage receipt on your phone – that way you have always have a copy, even if you lose the paper slip.
The hotel shuttle drops us right back where our Miami adventure began and I manhandle three suitcases into the terminal. At check-in we go through an extensive bureaucratic process to get Linda’s scooter on board. There’s questions about the battery type, its Watt/Hour rating, whether it can be removed, where it will be dropped off and collected etc etc. The check-in team are very friendly, but everything seems to take forever.
When we finally offload our cases, we’re directed to the American Airlines Flagship Lounge which Linda’s BA Executive Club Silver status grants us access to. But before that we must first navigate TSA security.
I have heard legends about how bad TSA is – and most seem to be true. The process is slow and inefficient, making Stansted look half capable. Here are my complaints:
The trays that pass through the x-ray scanner are too damn small – we needed five and that still didn’t fit all of our stuff
You have to take your shoes off and then do a full body scan
You can leave your liquids in your bag, but you have to remove your laptops and iPads
Even with my pockets emptied and belt removed, the TSA agent still felt the need to give me a quick grope
I guess my biggest complain is the arbitrary nature of these rules – they just don’t make any sense. This is especially true when you consider that they are not applied consistently across the world.
Top tip: You can leave your liquids in your bag when passing through Miami Airport security. Just make sure they still fit in your miniature plastic bag.
It’s a bit of a trek to the American Airlines lounge (find it opposite gate E30), but there are plenty of seats when we get there. The buffet choices are very limited though. Linda has a chocolate mousse of some kind while I have a little Temari & Honey Glazed Mahi with rice. It’s ok. On the plus side, they serve Piper Heidseck champagne which is a nice touch.
We leave the lounge in Zone D and trundle across to Gate 25 in Zone E where our BA A380 is waiting. There is even more confusion about mobility scooters and where they should be dropped, whether passengers should be pushed up the boarding ramp in wheelchairs or if they should walk, whether batteries have been disconnected blah blah blah. In the end, Linda rides her scooter to the door of the plane and we dump it for the ground crew to load into the hold.
Top tip: Leave plenty of time to make the trip between the AA lounge and the E gates (where BA flights depart from). There’s a bit of a walk and a train ride to get there.
We’re on the top deck of the plane, right at the back – similar to the seats we regularly choose on BA’s 777 fleet. This is our first time on an A380 and I’ve always wanted to fly one of these unfeasibly large beasts.
Part of our cruise deal included some onboard credit – so we traded it in for a Florida Everglades tour. $79 (each) buys an airboat tour and a visit to Flamingo Gardens. Equally important is that the Everglades tour ends at Miami Airport – from where we will be flying home tomorrow night.
Unfortunately this means getting up at 5:45am to ensure we can finish packing and have some breakfast before meeting our tour group at 8am in the Princess Theatre. Leaving Sky Princess is relatively smooth and the Port Everglades terminal works well – until we walk out the door.
Outside is chaos, with people trying to board buses, hail cabs, call an Uber or collect their own cars. Even the process of finding and boarding our tour bus is a complete disaster. It is no small relief when we finally take our seats on the air conditioned coach and pull away from the port.
Top tip: You can pick up a transfer bus from the Port Everglades cruise terminal to Ft Lauderdale Hollywood Airport for $11.50 per person or Miami International Airport for $25pp. You don’t need to book in advance, but the queues are extremely long and chaotic.
Juan, our tour guide, provides a running commentary about Florida, majoring on the invasive and non-native flora and fauna that can be found in the state. Meanwhile Herman, our driver, does multiple loops and double-backs which is a little bit weird. I think Juan was supposed to be telling us about various Fort Lauderdale sights as we drove past – but he was in his flow talking about Florida generalities.
Juan does tell us that the Everglades are not a swamp – they are a river.
Best airboat tour?
After driving around for a while, our coach pulls into the Everglades Holiday Park. Juan instructs us to hang around the shop/cafe/toilet building until our group is called. The area is swarming with cruise guests – unsurprising as I counted five ships in port today.
After a long wait we are ushered onto an airboat by an enthusiastic ‘Captain Dillon’ who insists that the quality of his Everglades tour is directly proportional to the enthusiasm of his guests. I hope for his sake the boat doesn’t contain too many Brits.
Captain Dillon insists that driving boats on the Everglades is dangerous, so he needs a co-captain just in case something happens to him. For some reason I am nominated Captain Ben, allowing Captain Dillon to pepper his talk with jokes about his co-captain.
Two enormous Cadillac engines power a pair of large propellers mounted at the back of the boat, pushing it along the surface of the water at great speed. Captain Dillon delivers a running commentary about the wildlife of the Everglades and how the canals came to be built. He punctuates each of his points with a loud rev of the engine.
We do two ridiculously fast runs along the canals and several slow pirouettes in between, hoping to see some ‘gators’. In the end, all we see is a buzzard and a heron. The fresh, cool breeze as we speed along is pleasant though.
Was this the best airboat tour in Florida? We didn’t see any alligators, so that was hugely disappointing. At least Captain Dillon was amusing. ‘If you enjoyed the tour, remember me, Captain Dillon,’ he ends, ‘And if you didn’t my name is Captain Ben.‘
Back on dock, Juan hurries us back to the bus. Apparently we are running behind schedule and two of our fellow guests have to be at the airport by 2pm.
Where is the Florida bear?
A short drive takes us to Flamingo Gardens, a not-for-profit mini-zoo. we have less than an hour before we have to leave, but the park is quite small and we have enough time to look at all of the animals twice.
At least we do get to see two alligators.
There are also several huge iguanas wandering around the park which is pretty cool too.
Then there’s a giant African spurred tortoise who lets us stroke his head.
And some otters that want to show off in their glass-fronted tank.
And a peacock who wants to follow us around the park.
And a talking crow that yells ‘hello’ until you try to video him.
The only disappointment is the Brown Bear who is sulking in his house so we don’t get to see him.
As we re-board the coach, two ladies are handing out ice cream sandwiches which is a really nice touch.
Miami Airport Transfer and a Shoddy Sheraton
At the end of our Florida Everglades tour, Juan and Herman drop us at Miami International Airport, pointing us in the direction of the local hotel shuttles. After a short wait, we spot the Sheraton shuttle and clamber aboard. The driver collects a few more passengers from the other airport terminal and then drives us over to the Sheraton Miami Airport.
Top tip: Many of the local hotels provide free shuttle buses – just wait at the bus stop outside your terminal until you see one for your hotel.You will of course be expected to tip your driver.
At ~£160 GBP per night, this hotel is not cheap, particularly as breakfast is not included. It’s also not particularly good value – I would say the quality is somewhere between a Travelodge and a Premier Inn. The room is big, but quite basic, bar the provision of USB charging points everywhere. The furniture feels a little dated and tired and the double-glazed window unit has blown, so we don’t have a good view out the window which is a blessing and a curse.
It’s a blessing because the rolling green fields of the golf course at the rear of the property have been ripped up in the last few weeks so David Beckham can build a new stadium/hotel complex for Inter Miami FC. A curse because jumbo jets and A380s keep flying low above our room – and we can’t see them clearly.
There is one main reason I chose the Sheraton – it’s just across the road from the Miami Airport metro station. This means it should be easy to get into downtown Miami tomorrow when we go out to explore. We also have the option of catching the MIA Mover train to the airport tomorrow if there are any problems with the hotel shuttle.
Top tip: All public transport in central Miami is free of charge until December 31st 2023.Read more here.
Rather than try the Sheraton’s in-house restaurant, we take a gamble on GrubHub and order a KFC delivery. We end up with a sharing meal for two that includes four pieces of chicken, four dips, a pile of crispy fries, some chicken bits and four ‘biscuits’. Or as we Brits call them, scones. Despite my cynicism (chicken and scones?!) they are very tasty and I would definitely eat them again.
Tomorrow we will visit the local Hard Rock Café and probably try and find a Bath & Bodyworks while we’re at it.
Today is Thanksgiving and the American travellers are in high spirits. We dock at the Grand Turk Island Cruise Terminal around 11:30am, sliding alongside the Mardi Gras, one of Carnival’s newest ships. Holding over 5000 passengers and 2000 crew, she’s enormous, completely blocking the light on our balcony. Despite having an on-deck rollercoaster, she’s also big, brash and a terrible advertisement for cruise holidays.
Having found nothing to look at within scooter distance of the terminal. The nearest geocache is nearly a mile away. The main town, Cockburn Town, is four. After yesterday’s battery panic, it’s not worth the risk. Instead, Linda and I decide to start the day gently with lunch in Alfredo’s Pizzeria on deck 7, then wander/roll ashore.
The dock pier leads directly into yet another duty free shopping village. There are a few stalls selling local handicrafts and also a Margaritaville resort. It appears to be little more than a (huge) poolside bar/club – and definitely not our scene.
The Grand Turk Island Cruise Terminal offers almost exactly the same shops and amenities as the ship itself – clothing, jewellery, booze, tobacco, ice cream, swimming, sunbeds. So it’s just like a ship on land which seems pointless.
Fun fact: Grand Turk was the splash landing site for John Glen after completing an orbit of the Earth in the Friendship 7 spacecraft. There is a small statue and display commemorating the event at the Cruise Terminal.
The beach and water look incredibly inviting so Linda makes the brave decision to stagger down for a paddle. She stands at the water’s edge and removes her sliders. I’ve come wearing sneakers and socks because I never expected to be going into the water. As I’m trying to remove my footwear, a larger wave rolls in – right over my feet. Linda nearly dies laughing.
The water is lovely and warm and Linda wishes she could swim in it. This is extremely unusual because we both hate the beach. She even talks about coming back to Grand Turk Island one day to do it.
Top tip: For the best views and sunbathing, head north to Governor’s Beach. However, you cannot simply walk along the shoreline because there is a government port blocking access. You will need to exit the Cruise Terminal complex and make the 1 mile walk by road.
After wandering along the beachfront area we return to the ship for a lazy afternoon. The Mardi Gras finally leaves, just in time for us to catch the sunset. Spectacular.
Fun fact: Residents of the Turks and Caicos Islands are not called ‘turkeys’ – they are ‘belongers’
For dinner Linda enjoys her first ever Thanksgiving Dinner which was novel. While she likes the roast turkey mains, I particularly enjoy the honey and macadamia nut pie for dessert. And the culinary team have gone all-out with their food decorations – great job.
And just to show I’m an idiot, I find another duck perched on top of a painting in the stairwell. Apparently this one is from Canada.
San Juan is the first US port of this cruise which means that everyone onboard Sky Princess must disembark and pass through immigration. Everyone. Even if they don’t want to go ashore.
All passengers have been issued with a disembarkation time – ours is 9:45am. Which gives us plenty of time to enjoy a leisurely breakfast in our stateroom.
But there’s a problem. Both batteries for Linda’s scooter are flat and they failed to charge overnight – despite checking everything was connected properly last night. I plug the charger into another socket and shove a battery in the charger as soon as I realise. We have about three hours until we have to disembark – and the batteries take eight hours to fully charge…
It looks like our ‘Stuff to do in San Juan’ list just went out the window. Will the battery even hold up long enough to go through the immigration rigmarole and return immediately to the ship?
When our departure group is called, I plug the battery into the scooter and it shows as being 100% charged. We leave the ship, keeping a very close eye on the battery level. And then the day gets worse…
The Luton Airport of cruise terminals?
Immigration processing takes place on the upper floor of the cruise terminal – and the lift at the entrance is out of order. Thankfully, one of Sky‘s officers leads a group of mobility impaired guests to a lift at the other end of the terminal where he loads eight of us into a lift.
The lift goes up. The lift goes down. The lift door does not open. The lift is broken. And cramped. And hot.
Finally, the door opens – back on the ground floor. After a lot of messing around, Linda and I finally make it to the first floor – it seems that there were too many people in the lift.
Now we get to join a queue to have our passports and ESTAs processed. An eternity later we’re out on the street in front of the terminal – and the scooter battery seems to be holding up ok.
There’s a geocache (#GC2CZN8) a couple of hundred metres away, so we head to a nearby park, Plaza de Hostos, where there is a small market taking place. One of the stallholders quickly realises what we are up to and leads us straight to the cache, hidden in one of the flower beds. The battery is still showing a full charge, so we keep walking along the broad, palm tree-lined Paseo de la Princesa, following it until we reach a fountain at the end.
The battery is still showing a good charge, so we keep following the road, winding between the sea and the high walls of Old San Juan. As we pass a tree hanging over the path, a large green lizard climbs above us which is quite cool. The path continues curving gently until we reach a large, red gateway – the original entrance to Old San Juan, Puerta de San Juan. This was on our list of Stuff to do in San Juan.
Passing through the gateway, the road climbs steeply, and unevenly, towards the Cathedral Basilica of San Juan. The sidewalks are narrow and bumpy and the cobbled streets are even worse. It is not a comfortable journey for Linda. But the area is very pretty and photogenic.
Top tip: The steep, cobbled streets in Old San Juan are not hugely friendly for anyone using a scooter, wheelchair or who has difficulties walking. Keep an eye for the drop curbs – they are painted blue to make them easier to spot.
Halfway up the hill I log another geocache next to a super weird Cat/Dolphin/Giraffe statue (#GC2JWTD). Turning right at the Cathedral we encounter a large crowd at the Calle de la Fortaleza, taking photos of the famous umbrellas hung above the street.
Top tip: Entering the city via the old gate has a couple of benefits. First, you will avoid the rush of cruisers heading towards Calle de Fortaleza for a while. Second, you get the hill climbing out of the way sooner – the walk back to port is all downhill. Third, you can imagine what it would have been like arriving in the city ‘back in the day’, passing through the thick and imposing defensive walls.
Add this to your Stuff to do in San Juan list
Pushing our way through the throng, we get to the second item on our Stuff to do in San Juan list – the picturesque Chapel of the Holy Christ of Health. The chapel has a cool legend:
During the San Juan Bautista celebrations of 1753 a rider, Baltazar Montanez, lost control of his horse and plunged to the cliffs below. The Spanish Secretary of Government Don Mateo Pratts was watching the drama unfold from a nearby balcony, and allegedly cried out, “Christ of Good Health, save him!” Though the horse didn’t survive the fall, the young rider did. Montanez then built the chapel on the exact spot where he had gone over the cliff.
Annoyingly, the chapel is only open on Tuesdays – and today is Wednesday.
Astonishingly, the scooter battery is still showing full charge. But rather than push our luck, we go east along Calle de la Fortaleza towards the port.
We still have some things to do in San Juan, Puerto Rico
Would we visit again? Maybe if we were passing this way again. Our Stuff to do in San Juan list included a visit to the old cemetery and the Castillo San Felipe del Morro, both of which we missed because of concerns about the scooter battery going flat. Linda would also like to visit the Hard Rock Café in Ponce, on the southern coast of Puerto Rico.
So far San Juan has been our favourite port on this cruise. And there’s only one more to go…
We’re awake early again this morning, to discover that Sky Princess is the first cruise ship in a long line sailing into Petersburg, Sint Maarten. Eventually six ships dock, disgorging more than 10,000 passengers.
The cruise terminal itself is not unlike Antigua’s (albeit much, much larger and slightly shinier) with lots of duty free shops and bars trying to part travellers from their cash. There is jewellery, clothing, liquor and perfume – just like an airport duty free area, but with sunshine.
The walk into town is fairly straightforward and the pavements are generally well-maintained. I guess they have to be when you have 10,000 or more passengers making the trek each day.
Despite hearing that the local Hard Rock Café (HRC) may be closed, we can see its sign from our balcony. So we head along the “Boardwalk” just to make sure – we don’t have any specific destination in mind. The view is suitably tropical, with palm trees, turquoise waters and white sand stretching the length of the bay. Sadly the weather is a bit mixed so there are a few light showers as we walk. To be honest, the damp and the light breeze are a little bit of a relief from the heat and humidity in between.
The walk is punctuated by the smell of barbecued meat and bar-side entertainers who are singing and dancing. There’s also a man selling fresh coconut punches (of course). In the distance our cruise ship towers over the bay.
Eventually we reach the HRC and discover that yes, it is permanently closed. The downstairs floor is now occupied by some kind of clothing shop. The upstairs still looks like the restaurant could re-open tomorrow – sans memorabilia.
We have also heard that Front Street (Vorstraat) is worth a look, at least in terms of duty free shopping. We head one block back from the sea and immediately run into a problem. The pavements are narrow and really badly maintained this far west on the street and there are no drop curbs anywhere. Progress with the mobility scooter is impossible. Back to the Boardwalk.
Top tip: The pavements in Petersburg are fine(ish) – so long as you stay in the very busiest parts of town. The moment the quality of the shops decline, so too does the sidewalk. So if you’re travelling with a mobility scooter, don’t go too far west along Front Street. Also be prepared for a bumpy ride because of the block paving. The Boardwalk is smooth cement for its entirety, so so long as you aren’t planning on shopping, it’s a better choice for scooters and wheelchairs.
After a few blocks we try Front Street again and find that although not perfect, the pavement has improved. The block paving is still quite uneven and Linda likens it to the toning plates found in gyms! We pass dozens of stores selling designer labels and jewellery, many of which have staff eagerly inviting us in. Thankfully they are far less pushy than their counterparts in Antigua which makes this stop more enjoyable.
Contender for weird moment of the trip: As we passed a beauty parlour, a lady said to Linda, ‘I like your hair. Is it a wig?’
At the old Guavaberry Rum distillery we do a very quick geocache (#GC3EEPY), then head back to the Boardwalk. We stop at the Lazy Lizard bar and Linda samples the guavaberry colada – it’s not too bad, sweet and slightly fruity. It’s also 2-for-1, so we get two for $10 USD. There are some picnic benches on the beach under the palm trees which are a great place to hang around for an hour or so – especially as there is a slightly heavier rain shower while we drink.
Top tip: St Maarten is a Dutch territory, so technically the local currency should be the Euro (€). However, the locals are determined to hold on to the Netherlands Antillean Guilder (ANG) instead. Not that it matters because every bar and shop advertises prices and accepts payments in US dollars ($). And if you have a Revolut card, it doesn’t matter at all.
Back on board, it is time to relax in the Wake Bar watching intermittent rain showers sweep over Petersburg. It’s still very warm – far too warm for our British sensibilities.
Our departure is somewhat delayed because there is a queue of ships waiting to leave port, and so we trail the other out. These ships are so brightly lit it looks like they are on fire…
Would we visit St Maarten and Petersburg again? Probably not. And certainly not until Linda is fully mobile again. If we were passing this way on a cruise ship in future we would definitely try out the local zipline (it’s massive!) and make a trip out to the world-famous Maho Beach to watch the jets landing at the airport.
After nine days at sea, we’re back on dry land today. We wake early, just in time to watch Sky Princess pulling into the port of St John’s (yes another one), this time in Antigua.
We sail past a collection of very expensive homes and exclusive beach resorts before pulling into dock, right in the centre of the city. Alongside a large Aida ship and another from Oceania Cruises. It’s the first day we have had sunshine on our giant balcony but we can’t sit and enjoy breakfast out there because 2000 German tourists are staring into our stateroom.
Top tip: Use your net curtains – people in other ships really are looking in. Probably judging your cabin stateroom.
One of the local beachfront bars is blasting loud music and there are thousands of tourists everywhere. The sun is shining, there’s a slight breeze and sporadic clouds crossing the horizon.
Eventually we head down to Deck 4 which is almost level with the dock – perfect for the mobility scooter. Then it’s just a short walk to the town.
Past security, there is a small shopping village, reminiscent of Braintree Freeport (but with more sunshine). We have no idea if the duty free shops are stocking genuine Nike/Longines/Jimmy Choo etc etc – or if they are knock-offs aimed at the cruise market. There is also an army of locals offering taxis and hair braids – and some are more aggressive than others.
The town is heaving – there must be 6000 or 7000 cruisers in port today – and there are only 22,000 locals on the entire island.
We travel a few blocks past the cruise terminal and are forced to give up. The poorly maintained pavements and roads are too much for the mobility scooter. We’ve also got no specific destination in mind, we’re just wandering. Given that neither of us are particular fans of hot weather – or persistent, insistent street traders – we turn back to the ship.
Top tip: Why is camouflaged clothing illegal in Antigua? Two reasons. First, to ensure you are not mistaken for military. Second, camouflage is often associated with criminal gangs.
Is this for real? Absolutely. You could face a $2000 fine and up to one year in prison. And the ban applies to children too. So when your cruise line tells you not to wear camouflage clothing, don’t.
We’ve been back on dry land – but not for long. Linda is pleased to see a real Caribbean palm tree though.
Back on board, we take advantage of everyone else being ashore to snag some sunbeds on the main deck – which is nice.
Later in the evening I stumble across a cruise duck at the Elite Lounge event in the Vista Lounge. I used to think the ducks were an urban legend, but Linda was a true believer. As usual, she was right.
This is our first time travelling at the front of the ship and it has been interesting. Since leaving the Azores, Sky Princess has been skirting the edge of a huge low pressure system that stretches from the US Eastern Seaboard all the way across the Atlantic back to Europe.
Ships creak. Who knew?
The storm has created a sizeable swell and Sky Princess rocked and rolled quite violently for two days. Personally, we quite enjoy the rough weather because it’s one of the few times you actually feel like you’re on a ship. Apparently we are in a minority however, judging by the bitching and carping taking place on the Facebook forums. Some people are horrified to discover that ships creak!
Top tip: Pick a point in the distance and walk in a straight line towards it as quickly as you can when the sea is rough – this will reduce swaying and staggering around the deck. You could also try drinking less too.
Although the wind has been strong and the water rough, the air temperature has been increasing steadily. Which means we were able to sit outside for a while this afternoon enjoying the sunshine.
Fun at the front of the ship
Later in the afternoon I take the opportunity to sit on our balcony for a while. And I see some tiny blue flying fish jumping out of our wake and gliding across the waves. It’s the first time we’ve ever seen flying fish which is quite exciting – and I’m sure it is to do with the location of our cabin at the front of the ship.
Top tip: Choosing a cabin at the front of the ship has advantages and disadvantages. You get a better view of the sea which has not been disturbed by the ship’s wake for instance – you would not see flying fish at the rear of the vessel.
However, as the ship cuts through larger waves, the water slams against the hull. This can be quite loud on lower decks.
I tried to take some photos of the flying fish but they were rubbish, so I advise going somewhere to see them in person for yourself. Enjoy a pic of the sunset instead: