Steve and Ann’s guide to the ultimate Caribbean cruise

Steve and Ann’s guide to the ultimate Caribbean cruise

[well]While informative and true, we want you to know that this post was written as an entry for Celebrity Cruises Ultimate Caribbean Cruise Itinerary contest. Winners of the contest receive a cash prize, social media recognition, and a guest post on the Celebrity Cruises blog. Opinions expressed are our own and are based on our actual cruising experiences.[/well]

If you’ve followed our blog for any time at all, you know that we’re a middle-aged, married couple from rural Nebraska, smack-dab in the middle of the United States and about as far from water as you can get. So yes, we dream about cruising often, which makes us experts in imaginary cruise itineraries. With this in mind, we offer our guide to the ultimate Caribbean cruise itinerary.

At port while cruising on the Celebrity Constellation.

Let’s face it, everywhere we’ve been in the Caribbean has included a beautiful island, crystal-clear water, warm temperatures, golden sand, lush palm trees, and friendly locals. But we have to start somewhere, so Steve will start in Key West, the heart of the fabulous Florida Keys.

Key West, Florida

STEVE: Ahhh….sunny Key West. I’ve been going the Keys and Key West to visit family since I was a boy, so feel that I know it well. But that isn’t why it makes our list. I include it because it is one of the most laid-back, relaxing places I know. It’s a place where no one takes anything too seriously, and everyone, including the chickens that populate every corner, just wants to have a good time.

Our view of Key West from the Celebrity Constellation.

Key West offers something for everyone, including an actual passport from the not-so-actual Conch Republic and fresh seafood that makes even the most entrenched landlubber drool. The shopping is divine, offering everything from high-end, luxury boutique items to natural sponges collected from nearby waters.

We loved shopping for sponges in Key West.

In Key West you can be literary and tour Hemingway’s home, or historical and visit Truman’s Little White House and then learn about Flagler’s Overseas Railroad. But whatever you do, don’t be too serious — this is the town where they throw stale Cuban bread at a U.S. Navy ship once a year, after all.

The Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory housed 50-60 species of live butterflies.

A day spent in Key West can be action-packed with activities like parasailing, snorkeling and wave running, or laid back with a cocktail on the beach or a visit to the Butterfly Nature Center and Conservatory. By the time the sun sets on Mallory Square, visitors to Key West feel a sense of deep relaxation, the tensions of everyday life forgotten. For these reasons, I think that any traveler to the Caribbean should set their sights on Key West. 

Travel Tip: Take the Conch Train tour. It’s a great overview of the island and its history, and it’s only 90 minutes long so it won’t take up your entire day.

Basseterre, St. Kitts & Nevis

ANN: My ideal Caribbean cruise would have to include a stop in beautiful Basseterre St. Kitts and Nevis. I fell in love with this perhaps lesser known island a couple of years ago and we wrote about it HERE. As soon as I set foot in Port Zante, I was immediately attracted to the island – the iridescent waters, the lush flora, and blue skies made me feel like I’d died and gone to Instagram heaven. #nofilterneeded

Arriving at the port in Basseterre St. Kitts.

In addition, everyone there was so nice and legitimately seemed happy. And why wouldn’t they be? Kittitians share a 65-square mile island surrounded by pristine beaches, beautiful gardens, and all the mangos they can eat. Oh, and there are cute little monkeys everywhere!

That’s the Atlantic Ocean on the left and the Caribbean Sea on the right.

We would recommend a visit to Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park where you’ll learn about the island’s history and take in one of the most gorgeous views you’ve ever seen.

The incredible view from the top of Brimstone Hill in St. Kitts.

An excursion to the Caribelle Batik Factory at Romney Manor is also a must. Artists there demonstrate this unique Indonesian method of resisting dye with wax to create beautiful designs on fabrics. 

Batik fabric in St. Kitts

And don’t head back to the ship until you’ve stopped at a local eatery and tried salt fish and provisions. This dried fish dish is a local favorite and is served with salad and “provisions,” including a coconut dumpling, sweet potato, white potato, dasheen and yam.

Travel tip: Find your way to Timothy Hill Lookout for a stunning, iconic photo of St. Kitts and Nevis surrounded by both the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea.

Phillipsburg, St. Maarten

STEVE: St. Maarten is one of those beautiful Caribbean islands whose palm trees, soft breezes, warm sand beaches, friendly inhabitants, and slow pace of life connect to your inner being in way that makes you happy to be alive. More importantly, for airplane fanatics like me, it is also home to Princess Juliana Airport and Maho Beach.

It was surreal to watch these planes land literally yard from where we standing on the beach.

Have you ever watched one of those YouTube videos where people are standing on a beach and they are so close to a huge jet landing that they look like they could almost jump up and touch it?

That’s Maho Beach.

The government in St. Maarten has actually put up warning signs telling people not to get too close to the end of the runway. And they mean it. Jet blast from arriving and departing planes is very dangerous. But if you stand off to the side of the runway, you have an amazing view of planes taking off and landing.

We had a great table at the Sunset Bar and Grill where we could enjoy a sandwich and guava berry colada while watching airplanes come in for landing.

And if you go a little further to the side you can find a nice little bar where you can relax with a cold beverage and take in this fantastic aviation experience. 

Travel Tip: Check the flight schedule for Princess Juliana Airport in St. Maarten to make sure you’re there when the BIG planes come in.

Costa Maya, Mexico

ANN: Although we haven’t been to Costa Maya … yet … It makes our ideal Caribbean cruise port list because there’s so much to see and do there. You can lounge on the beach, shop for tourist favorites like pure vanilla, serapes, and tequila, and even explore ancient Mayan ruins.

Neither one of us had ever seen one of the Seven Wonders of the World until we visited the pyramid at Chichen Itza in 2017.

Neither one of us had ever seen one of the Seven Wonders of the World until we visited the pyramid at Chichen Itza in 2017.

We also highly recommend strapping yourself up in a bright orange life jacket and jumping off a rock into a cenote.

Swimming in the crowded cenote.

Swimming in the cenote.

Steve and our daughter, Meghan, checked this off on their bucket lists a couple of years ago while in Mexico and loved the experience. (I took photos) They loved floating on their backs and enjoying the view of the vines and vegetation above and both said they would do it again.

Meghan and Steve ready to swim in the cenote.

Our daughter, Meghan and Steve ready to swim in the cenote.

Costa Maya is a planned port on a 7-night Western Caribbean sailing on Celebrity’s new Edge, and we are beyond excited to board that ship in early 2019.

Tip: Book your excursion through the ship, especially if you don’t know the language. Their tour operators will get you to and from your destination easily, and you’ll have a wonderful experience.

Don’t forget a few sea days

Of course, our ideal Caribbean Cruise would also include a few sea days. We’ve found plenty to do  when our ship’s at sea and wrote a blog post about it called “21  things to do on a sea day besides eat.” Here’s look at how each of us would spend the ideal sea day:

Let’s face it, the truly ultimate Caribbean cruise would have a stop at every port Celebrity Cruises visits. Most importantly, you would never have to dread the day when your disembarkation luggage tags arrive, because this ultimate Caribbean cruise would go on forever!

My first visit to a nude beach

My first visit to a nude beach

So, we’ve debated for some time whether or not to write this post.

As you know, Steve and I are actually quite modest people. We don’t wear clothing that draws attention (unless you count a couple of Steve’s Hawaiian shirts) and we often blush at PG-13 movies. However, when we were preparing for our Christmas vacation in the Caribbean this year, I read something about the nude beaches there and what can I say … my first thought was YOLO!

Steve, on the other hand, was not feeling it. He said he was worried a NSFW (not safe for work) photo of him would end up on Instagram. He feared that even with the beauty only an X-Pro II or Valencia filter could deliver, he would be embarrassed if a photo was made public. As we all know, my body is not exactly in the ideal shape for the nude beach, but I’d always thought it could be liberating and I was willing to try anything once. I just didn’t want to go alone.

I brought up the idea at the start of our cruise vacation and our daughter, Meghan, quickly announced, “It’s a big NO for me.” That meant I had only one other person on the trip to ask to join me on this once-in-a-lifetime experience — my dear mother.

She’d been trying lots of new things in her retirement years and I thought she might be game. I planned my “ask” a few days in advance and then settled down at our favorite Martini Bar on Celebrity Summit with the woman who gave me life. We ordered cocktails and I began to encourage her to have another, and then another.

The Martini Bar on the Celebrity Summit was the perfect place for me to ask my mom to join me on a nude beach excursion.

It didn’t take long before she was loosening up a bit and I thought she might be ready for my request. Just as she was finishing off her third Manhattan, I decided to broach the subject. Surprisingly, she didn’t take much convincing at all and even confided she’d often wondered what it be like to visit a nude beach and suggested we do it on the next port of call. I couldn’t believe it!

Mom and I met for breakfast the next morning and although she seemed a bit nervous, I tried to ease her anxiety by commenting that her hair and makeup looked fantastic. No doubt in my mind, she was going to be the hottest great-grandma on the beach that day!

Breakfast that morning at Blu on the Celebrity Summit.

After a lovely breakfast, we packed our beach bags with nothing but sunscreen and a pair of shades. We said adios to Steve and Meghan, who had opted for a far-more conservative deep-sea fishing excursion, and mom and I headed for the beach.

Our beach bag was super light — just a tube of sunscreen and our sunglasses was all we needed for our day at the beach.

Our cab driver dropped us off near the entrance to the beach and with a little smirk, told us to “have a great day.” As we followed the narrow path, both of us were getting a bit nervous about our first public au naturale experience. Just as we approached the beach area, there was a sign that read, “NOTICE: Beyond this point you may see nude bathers.” It was getting all too real.

Suddenly, a man who appeared to be in his mid-50s, walked toward us wearing nothing but his sandals and a smile and said, “Good morning, ladies.” Mom and I gave each other one last look, said “It’s now or never,” and walked through the hot sand until we found an open space on the beach.

We laid our beach towels in the sand, took off our coverups and began . . .

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ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

DO YOU REALLY THINK I’D GO TO A NUDE BEACH, LET ALONE WITH MY MOM???

***None of the information contained in this post is true. We just love April Fools’ Day!


As always, thanks for SHARING and not adding any “spoiler” comments on social media.

Following our hearts to St. Kitts

Following our hearts to St. Kitts

Two years ago, I had never even heard of St. Kitts. Then, in August 2015, two incredible young men from this small island in the Caribbean stepped into our lives and into our hearts.

We met Michael and Josiah their first week in Crete when they came to our church one Sunday morning. Steve and I help lead the college ministry at Crete Berean and were delighted to welcome them to small-town U.S.A. It didn’t take long before they were coming over to our place for a home-cooked meal, a game of cards, or just to hang out.

Doane University students Michael Tross and Josiah Oyebefun.

Over the past year and a half, we’ve grown to love these young men and have empathized with them on cold, snowy days when we knew how much they were missing the sunshine, beaches, and their families back home in St. Kitts.

When we booked our family Christmas vacation in the Caribbean, we were so excited that the cruise we selected would be making a stop in St. Kitts and we prayed that Michael or Josiah would be there at the same time. God’s provision prevailed, and Michael was able to go home for Christmas, and Josiah would be traveling there a few weeks later.

My mom Carol, who has also grown to love these guys who call her “grandma,” did not know that Michael would be there the same time we were going to be there. We decided not to tell her and let it be a surprise. And was it ever!!

We told my mom that we’d arranged for a private tour of the island that day. When we got off the ship, we walked down the pier told mom to keep and eye out for two people with signs that said “Rose and Jim’s Taxi.” As we all walked toward the meeting place, we saw Rose and Jim, and a third person, hidden behind a tourism sign. When we got closer, Michael moved the sign away from his face and my mom was absolutely shocked!

My mom, Carol, was absolutely shocked to see Michael at Port Zante in St. Kitts.

The look of surprise and joy on her face, was the best Christmas present we could have ever given or received. She wrapped her arms around Michael, took another look to make sure it was him, and said, “Michael, what are you doing here?” In Michael’s ever-so-calm and deep voice, he simply said, “I live here.”  It was a moment in time I’ll never forget.

Another thing I’ll never forget about our stop in St. Kitts was arrival in port that morning. Steve and I woke up early as the sun was just rising over the mountains. When we pulled back the curtains to our veranda on deck 9 of the Celebrity Summit, we saw the most amazing colors and scenery. We quickly threw on some clothes and shoes and went up to deck 11 to get an even better view.

The pictures really don’t do justice to the awe inspiring view as we sailed into port at St. Kitts.

Of course, we had made arrangements ahead of time for Michael to join us on a tour of the island by Rose and Jim’s Taxi Service. Rose was our tour guide and gave us a customized tour of St. Kitts, making stops not only at popular island attractions, but also at places important to Michael.

Rose gave us some of the history of St. Kitts as we drove along the shoreline and into the verdant rainforest which encompasses a quarter of the land the St. Kitts. We were amazed by the tropical plants and flowers and all of the different types of trees and wildlife.

We were told this tree was more than 400 years old.

The wide variety of tropical plants was just amazing.

Our first stop was at the Caribelle Batik Factory at Romney Manor. Visited by thousands each year (and occasionally the rich and famous), Caribelle uses ancient Indonesian methods of resisting dye with wax to create beautiful designs and fabrics. You can watch the video below to see how it is done.

The grounds there were absolutely stunning. Plush gardens, colorful flowers, and even a tree that has stood there for more than 400 years made the most incredible backdrops for pictures.

Mom and Mikey at Caribelle Batik in St. Kitts.

Our beautiful daughter, Meghan, at Caribelle Batik in St. Kitts.

We spent some time learning about plants like the traveler’s palm. Rose showed us how the plant can be stretched to provide clean water for weary travelers.

We learned all about the fabrics and batik designs before stopping in the store for a little shopping. We each found a traditional batik shirt and selected a few gifts for others. We entertain a lot and I found a gorgeous table runner and matching napkins that I thought would be great additions to our tableware and a nice reminder of time there.

We purchased a batik shirt for each of us and also bought a table runner and napkins to remember our time in St. Kitts.

We left Caribelle Batik and headed off on our next stop at Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park. Rose told us there were quite a few steps up to the top, but that the view was worth the climb. She was right.

Michael actually trains for track by running up these steps at Fort Brimstone. It took me awhile to get up all the steps, but the view from the top was worth it.

From the top, we had the most amazing view of the Caribbean Sea and the beaches below, along with the village called Sandy Point, where Michael lives.

Michael and Steve at the top of Fort Brimstone in St. Kitts.

We were even able to see the grass track where he’d practiced his sprints while in school there. Not long after we got to the top, rain began to fall, so we headed into the fort to look around as we waited for clouds to pass by. When they did, we returned to the lookout spot to find an incredible rainbow just below. It was a beautiful sight and I knew at the moment exactly why Michael and Josiah loved this land so much.

The incredible view from the top of Brimstone Hill in St. Kitts.

After that, we drove down the hills to Sandy Point where Michael lived. We were greeted at his home by his mom and sister who treated us to Caribbean cold drinks and a homemade rum cake that was absolutely divine. It was so great to meet them and see all of Michael’s track and field medals and trophies and where he grew up.

It was so great to visit Mikey at his family’s home where we could see all of the medals he has won in track and field.

Often when we visit a new place, we spend all our time at touristy attractions and rarely get an inside look at someone’s home to see and understand how people really live there. The Tross family had a beautifully decorated home and their hospitality was just amazing.

Michael’s family welcomed us into their home with open arms and the most delicious rum cake we’ve ever had.

After a short visit, we all went to a local restaurant to meet some others for a traditional Kittitian meal. We arrived at El Fredo’s Bar & Grill where we were greeted by the rest of Michael’s family, Josiah’s parents, and another young man named Davron who was planning to attend college in Nebraska and his family. It was so wonderful to finally meet everyone!

Most of the lunch group outside El Fredo’s Bar & Grill in St. Kitts.

The men all sat together at one table and the ladies at another and most of the young people gathered together, as well.

The dads.

Our daughter Meghan enjoyed lunch with Michael and his girlfriend, Rochelle, and Davron and his sister.

I ordered the meal I had heard the most about over the past year from Michael and Josiah — salt fish. The dried fish dish was served with salad and “provisions,” including a coconut dumpling, sweet potato, white potato, dasheen and yam. It was all delicious.

The salt fish I ordered was served with “provisions,” including breadfruit, green banana, sweet potato, white potato, dasheen and yam.

After lunch, Michael’s sister and girlfriend joined us and we went for a drive around the island and made a quick stop a one of the most picturesque places in St. Kitts where I was able to get a photograph of the mountains below with both the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea in the same shot.

That’s the Atlantic Ocean on the left and the Caribbean Sea on the right.

Rose did a wonderful job showing us points of interest, spotting the popular free-roaming vervet monkeys, and stopping whenever we wanted to get out and snap and few pictures, like at this beach.

Mikey and his girlfriend, Rochelle, at the beach.

We’re hoping Mikey’s little sister, Calvinesha, will also be able to come to Doane University someday.

We enjoyed a leisurely drive around the island and then back to the cruise port where we said a fond farewell to Rose.

Rose was a fantastic tour guide!

On a side note, we would highly recommend using Rose and Jim’s Taxi Service if you are ever in St. Kitts. Rose has a wealth of knowledge and is just an absolutely delightful person to get to know. Their prices were reasonable and she was able to accommodate all of our requests which made for an incredible day in St. Kitts.

Back at Port Zante, which opened in 2005 to accommodate large ships, we had time to do a little shopping and look for a postcard.

We said our goodbyes, knowing we’d see Michael back in Nebraska in just a few short days.

Walking back from Port Zante to the Celebrity Summit.

As we walked back to the ship, after a full day in St. Kitts, I knew this would not be the last time we’d visit the island. Not only was St. Kitts one of the most stunning places we’d ever been, it was also home to some of the most caring and generous people we’ve ever met. Everyone from the taxi driver to the restaurant servers treated us like old friends and the relatives of the Kittitian college students we knew made us feel like family. In the end, we all agreed — it was the generous hearts of the people of St. Kitts that make this Caribbean island one of the most beautiful places on earth.

Thanks for sharing (and pinning) this post! 

 

 

[well]For more information and news about St. Kitts, visit www.SKNvibes.com[/well]

 

 

 

 

 

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Celebrating Christmas at sea

Celebrating Christmas at sea

Christmas has always been a really important time for me. I love preparing for and celebrating the birth of my Savior, giving and receiving gifts, singing Christmas carols, and spending time with family and friends. So, it was’t easy for me to agree to taking a family vacation over the Christmas holiday, knowing I would be leaving behind traditions I’ve always cherished. However, Steve’s time off this year for the holidays was limited, and this was one of our rare opportunities to get away for more than a few days at a time, so we decided to just go.

We did our best to incorporate as many of our Christmas traditions as I could, and we enjoyed a wonderful vacation, along with our daughter, Meghan, and my mom, Carol.

We boarded the Celebrity Summit on Christmas Eve and awoke Christmas morning to sunny skies and the beautiful blue waters of the Caribbean Sea. We started our day with a lovely breakfast in Luminae where we were reunited with Gustavo — one of our favorite servers from a cruise we’d taken earlier this year on another ship. We loved his smile and bubbly personality, his strong work ethic, and all the ways he went above and beyond to make our last cruise so enjoyable.

Gustavo is one of the many incredible crew members on the Celebrity Summit whom we've had the privilege to meet.

Gustavo is one of the many incredible crew members on the Celebrity Summit whom we’ve had the privilege to meet.

He had mentioned when we met him this summer  that he was going to be working on the Summit next, so we were anticipating seeing him onboard and wanted to do something special for him for Christmas. I remembered he was from Mexico and since the town where we live has several Mexican bakeries and grocery stores, I picked up a few treats that I hoped would be familiar to Gustavo and packed them in my suitcase, along with a Postcard Jar t-shirt.

We packed a Postcard Jar t-shirt as well as some snacks from Mexico for one of our favorite crew members for Christmas.

We packed a Postcard Jar t-shirt as well as some snacks from Mexico for one of our favorite crew members for Christmas.

Christmas morning, I wrapped them up and brought the gift bag for him at breakfast. I know it must have been difficult for Gustavo to be so far away from home (and working) on such a special day, and we wanted him to know he was loved by God and by us. The smile it brought to his face was such a blessing!

After breakfast, we took a short walk around the ship’s deck, just soaking in the sun (which we hadn’t seen in a while) and enjoying the spectacular views.

It didn’t seem quite like Christmas to be surrounded by the sea and the sun, but we enjoyed every minute of it.

After that, we went by the grand foyer where Santa Claus was making an appearance and greeting all of the ship’s children with gifts.

Celebrity Cruises had the Grand Foyer beautifully decorated for Christmas and Santa was there to give gifts to all of the children on board. From what we saw, the older kids received beach towels and the younger ones got plush toys.

Celebrity Cruises had the Grand Foyer beautifully decorated for Christmas and Santa was there to give gifts to all of the children on board. From what we saw, the older kids received beach towels and the younger ones got plush toys.

We got a kick out of the kids who were so excited to see Santa and we especially enjoyed watching the woman in this video who was concerned about someone not waiting their turn, only to find out he was the Captain of the ship. (oops)

Next, we returned to our cabin to exchange a few gifts and I surprised the rest of group with personalized stockings. While I wasn’t able to display them on a fireplace mantel or under a Christmas tree, I made do with a small chair in our room and we had a great time opening presents and celebrating Christmas together.

I chose gifts this year that were very small in size and packed wrapping paper and bows ahead of time.

I chose gifts this year that were very small in size and packed wrapping paper and bows ahead of time.

Mom loved her Nebraska volleyball t-shirt we got her for Christmas.

Mom loved the Nebraska volleyball t-shirt we got her for Christmas.

To read more about how I was able to pack nine gifts, stockings, stuffers, and wrapping supplies in my suitcase and still keep it under 50 pounds, CLICK HERE.

We relaxed much of the afternoon and met up at the Martini Bar for a cocktail before dinner. We enjoyed another wonderful meal at Luminae, which even included traditional Christmas favorites like turkey and dressing.

Gustavo and Steve at dinner in Luminae on Christmas Day.

Gustavo and Steve at dinner in Luminae on Christmas Day.

After dinner, we gathered in the foyer with other passengers and crew to sing Christmas carols while fake snow was blown in.

Fake snow fell for three decks as crew and passengers joined in the singing of traditional Christmas carols.

Fake snow fell for three decks as crew and passengers joined in the singing of traditional Christmas carols.

We ended the evening in the Celebrity Theater with a holiday show and then retreated to our rooms. There, I found this lovely ornament and message, which will both be nice reminders of our Christmas at sea.

This Christmas tree ornament was a nice gift from Celebrity and will be a great reminder of our Christmas at sea.

This Christmas tree ornament was a nice gift from Celebrity and will be a great reminder of our Christmas at sea.

note

This Christmas was different than most we’ve shared. I missed our church service, the snow-covered landscape of our backyard, and watching the lights twinkle on our Christmas tree. But I cherished the time with family, the opportunity to travel someplace new, and the joy of celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ — no matter where we are.