Sunday, December 5, 2021
Today is a new port for us – Castries, Saint Lucia (8:00 – 3:30). Up until this morning, all the announcements about going ashore said guests would be limited to only going on Holland America (HAL) sponsored shore excursions. However, once we docked, the cruise director announced that the government had decided to allow guests ashore if they were on a government-approved tour operator excursion. However, we were not allowed to explore or wander around on our own. It was said that all of these precautions were to limit our exposure to anyone who might be unvaccinated and/or infected.
From previous cruises, I know that many people like to take shore excursions from independent operators rather than a ship-sponsored excursion – mostly because the groups are smaller and the prices usually less expensive. If you research well, you can find tour operators who are reputable and will get you back to the ship on-time. If you go with a ship-sponsored tour, the ship guarantees you will be back on time, or the ship will wait for you or pay to get you to the next port.
Today, I wondered if people who had signed up for a ship excursion and then heard the announcement about independent operators cancelled their HAL excursion to find an independent. If they cancelled, did HAL refund their money? I had heard HAL was going to be more lenient in shore excursion refunds due to the changing requirements of the local island governments. I never did talk with anyone who changed so I can’t say for sure.
We ordered room service breakfast for this morning. We completed the breakfast card last night and hung it outside our door. The breakfast was delivered promptly at the time we requested. We were able to watch the sail-in from the balcony and then finish getting ready for our tour without having to deal with crowds in the Lido.
Over the years, the room service breakfast choices have been scaled back. They have also added some breakfast items that are an extra charge. However, you can still get a hot breakfast of eggs, bacon, or sausage, hashbrowns, toast, coffee, and juice without paying extra. Other choices include a continental breakfast, cold or hot cereal, or a yogurt parfait – all without paying extra.
Chuck got the hot breakfast and I got yogurt and the continental breakfast. I tip the delivery person, but it is not required. The food was very good. Everything that was supposed to be hot was hot and everything that was supposed to be cold was cold. All served on nice china, good flatware, and cloth napkins. Very nice start to the day.
At 9:30, we went ashore to the pier and located our HAL tour – “Aerial Tram Adventure.” The tour description on the HAL website is
About the Excursion
Flirtatious hummingbirds, impressive buttress root systems, and persistent Ficus stranglers are your companions on this rain forest aerial tram ride.
The Aerial Tram transports you up and away from the heat and bustle of the lowlands to an ecological park located in the heights of St Lucia’s forest reserve. The open-air gondola ascends quietly through the rain forest, offering a magical view of nature in all its majesty — towering gommiers, impressive chatanniers, and the remarkable phenomenon of the strangler Ficus. Playful hummingbirds and bananaquits are everywhere.
An experienced naturalist interpretive guide will point out giant ferns and magnificent heliconia and identify the calls and the plumage of the birdlife that makes its home in the Caribbean oceanic forest.
The ride affords a bird’s-eye view of the forest and a spectacular panoramic vista of the north of the island. With much to see and hear, the tram ride is a celebration of color and life — a restorative retreat to invigorate the senses.
Disembark at the Aerial Tram base station located in the area of Chassin, some 2,000 feet above sea level, nestled at the base of La Sorcière mountain. From here, it is just a half-hour drive back to Castries.
The tram park premises are non-smoking. Maximum weight is 350 lbs. A café and souvenir shop are located at base station. Closed-toe walking and/or hiking shoes are mandatory (no high heels, sandals, or flip-flops) for guests who wish to walk the Fern Nature Trail (optional).
What the description didn’t include was that you were packed into a van and driven 30 minutes to the site. They drive on the left side of the road very fast around the hair-pin curves up and down the mountains. When they pass, they beep and “go” regardless of traffic conditions. I was so glad I had taken a Bonine before the ride so I didn’t get car sick. Terrifying.
Once all three of the vans arrived at the base station, we were divided into groups of 8 to be able to get on an open-air gondola for the ride up the mountain. It sprinkled for a few minutes but the sun soon came out. The breeze was very nice. I did see some hummingbirds flitting around the beautiful flowers at the base station. I just could not get a photo.
We didn’t have to wait long before our gondola was ready. Chuck and I were sitting on the 2nd seat from the front. The naturalist was in the back of the gondola (seat with backpack), but she spoke very good English and she projected well also so we didn’t have a hard time hearing her.
As we rode, she did identify the trees, bushes, vines and flowers. I didn’t take notes or record her commentary, so I have no clue as to what all these pictures are except they are trees, bushes, vines, and flowers. Sigh. Their sizes were impressive. We did see some birds and hummingbirds, but they were too fast for a picture.
Once we got to the very top, we had a wonderful view of the island and the Caribbean Sea. It was very peaceful ride up and down the mountain through the eco park.
We did see some people zip lining and from the shouts they sounded like they were having a great time. We have gone ziplining in the past and it is a lot of fun.
Once we got off the gondola, she offered to take us on the 20-minute nature walk. If you didn’t want to go, you could just go on to the gift shop and get some free fruit juice. We opted for the short hike. We should have opted out because she walked and talked so fast that I couldn’t keep up and take pictures too. The ground, of course, was very uneven and I had to really watch where I stepped to keep from turning an ankle. I would have been better off just photographing the flowers around the gift shop.
There were two different types of fruit juices offered. One was a guava-based juice and the other was something made with flowers. I liked the guava one better. A little bird kept landing and hopping about trying to get some juice. Don’t know what kind of bird and my pictures are grainy. I will never get a job with National Geographic.
Once we were told to get back on the vans, we knew to get on Van #2 as directed by our driver when we had arrived. We got on Van #2; however, it was not the same driver. Okay. We started to get off but our guide said “No, my group stays on this van. It is Van #2.” We stayed on. Then, she comes back and says “Oh, there are two Van #2 so you are on the other Van #2.”
It was not easy climbing in and out of those vans so there were some disgruntled people. We were all going back to the same ship so why not just fill up the available vans and go? Disorganized.
Another crazy 30-minute ride and we were back to the ship. I found a cute hummingbird ornament at one of the souvenir tents at the pier. It seemed fragile so I hoped it would make it back home without breaking.
The Lido was still serving a light lunch so that was our first stop after dropping our backpack in the room. Afterwards, we went back to relax on the balcony and to watch the sail-away at 4:00 and be ready for the scenic cruising in the Soufriere Bay past the Pitons (pronounced: pea-tons) at 5:00.
There were dark clouds in the distance, and you could see the rain coming toward the ship. Then the sun partially came out and we had the most brilliant rainbow. It lasted the entire time we were in the Bay. Mesmerizing.
The Pitons were majestic. I was told that the snorkeling near them is wonderful also.
The last picture I took was just after a jet plane flew over. It seemed to cut through the clouds and leave a gold streak in the sky.
At 7:00, it was time for dinner. We were seated at a table for two. I had the chicken cordon bleu and Chuck had the beef stroganoff. We both had dessert tonight as they offered carrot cake and I love carrot cake. Another different area of the dining room and a different wait staff but the same great service.
However, at the end of the meal, I was miserably stuffed and decided that I would rather go back to the room, listen to the waves, and work on processing the many, many pictures I made today than listen to the bands or go to the main stage and watch the Step One Dancers perform Musicology. Good choice as I fell asleep quickly. I was glad I didn’t drop my laptop. I would have been embarrassed if I had fallen asleep during a performance.
Chuck went to the Casino. Unfortunately, he did not make it to Round 4 of the tournament so no prize money for us. He did receive two t-shirts and two ball caps. We are holding our own at the slot machines.
No towel animal tonight.
Tomorrow – Barbados
Castries, St. Lucia
St Lucia, situated in the Caribbean Sea, is the second largest of the Windward Islands located in the eastern Caribbean Sea. The island was created because of volcanic activity and is 27 miles long and14 miles wide. The Pitons – Gros Piton and Petit Piton – are twin volcanic peaks that rise from the sea and have helped make St. Lucia famous.
Jacquot, or the St. Lucia Parrot, is a bird native only to these islands. It is the national bird of St. Lucia, and its scientific name is Amazona Versicolor.
St. Lucia is home to Roseau Valley Distillery, which is famous for producing more than 21 types of rum.
*Trivia provided by Wikipedia and information supplied by Holland America