San Juan-7

We’ve just returned from 11 days aboard a Viking Ocean Cruise, together with 928 fellow passengers plus crew. The MS Viking Sea is a nine-deck ship built in Ancona, Italy and launched in 2016. It’s the second in a series of 10 identical vessels built exclusively for Viking.

Viking Sea-32

It sleeps 930 passengers and like its sister vessels, is built with the latest in marine technologies, including energy-saving hybrid engines, optimized hulls and bulging bows (to attain maximum fuel efficiency).

San Juan-3

Here is our journey, from San Juan to San Juan, in a three-part series.

San Juan

San Juan, Puerto Rico

Our morning three-mile walk is centered around old San Juan in northeast Puerto Rico. Half of the island nation is bilingual and though part of the United States since 1898, Spain first owned it for 400 years.

San Juan-9

We admire the grey/blue Adoquín cobblestones, formerly used to ballast the Spanish galleons that brought both settlers and goods here.

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Between its streets filled with colourfully-painted Colonial homes and the imposing forts of Castillo San Cristóbal and Castillo San Felipe del Morro (aka El Morro), San Juan is definitely deserving of its UNESCO World Heritage status.

San Juan-10
[Castillo San Felipe del Morro]

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[Catedral de San Juan de Puerto Rico]

Though Puerto Rico’s history declares it to have been discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1493, it was Juan Ponce de León that began to colonize the area in 1508.

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Columbus originally named the island San Juan Bautista, but the citizens later changed it to Puerto Rico, due to the gold found in the river (Puerto Rico translates to “rich port” in Spanish).

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[Castillo San Cristóbal]

San Cristóbal offers stunning views from 150 feet above sea level at its highest and at 27 acres, is the largest fort built by Spaniards in the Americas.

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In between quick rain showers, we wind our way around from the fort towards Catedral de San Juan de Puerto Rico, the first occupied cathedral in the New World, then make our way to the San Juan Gate, the first of five gates within the three-mile wall that formerly enclosed the city.

Tortola, BVI-2

Tortola, British Virgin Islands

We’ve arrived into Tortola Town, British Virgin Islands, with one thing on our minds: getting into that crystal blue water!

Tortola, BVI

Following breakfast on board, we head into one of Viking’s orange tender boats for a quick ride to Tortola’s dock where we board a catamaran that kicks off a morning tour of two snorkel spots and a cheese, bread and fruit snack.

Tortola, BVI-4

Our first stop once across Sir Francis Drake Channel is Norman Island, famous for having inspired Robert Louis Stevenson to write his well-loved novel, Treasure Island.

Norman Island, BVI

Here we get a chance to explore a few sea caves filled with schools of tiny fish and a few gigantic ones that occasionally break up the vortex by creating a hole in the center as they push on through. Brown pelicans line the rocks, adding to the array of sea life here.

We get an intense but brief downpour while in the water, and it’s kind of cool to watch enormous droplets hit the surface.

Tortola, BVI-3

Back on the catamaran, our crew’s prepared a large cheese, bread and fresh fruit plate, and rum punch (and ice water) is passed around our 38-person group. It’s time to head to our second stop, Pirates Bight, where we have the option of swimming, hanging out on a lounge chair with drinks, or snorkeling right off the beach. The weather turns from bright blue to clouds and rain, but this is winter in the West Indies after all.

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[Our onboard sommelier, Paul, gets the bottles ready for our tasting]

After lunch by the infinity pool on deck 7, we relax on our balcony and get ready for an early evening wine tasting curated by Viking Sea’s in-house sommelier Paul, followed by dinner (ours will be at The Restaurant on deck 2 this evening). It’s been an exhilarating yet relaxing day on the ocean.

Viking Sea-21
[Because, why not?!]

We’re spoiled by the service here. Our wet beach towels are collected before we even board the tender boat back, a cool towel and fresh bottle of water await us back on dock with only a few choices remaining: where to lunch, pool or spa, and when to eat dinner.

Viking Sea-23 Viking Sea-22

Did I mention there’s a high tea service from 4 to 5 pm, complete with traditional three-tier savoury and sweet offerings, scones, clotted cream, jam and pot of tea?

St. Kitts

St. Kitts

After an overnight cruise distance of 132 nautical miles, we pull into the port of Basseterre, St. Kitts. This gorgeous island nation of 68 square miles straddles both the Caribbean and Atlantic Oceans.

Around the time that the British arrived (1625), the first sugar cane plantation was set up. African slaves were put to work for sugar cane (and tobacco) production. The last remaining sugar cane plant shut down in 2005, ending over 350 years of sugar production. Today, tourism is the nation’s top source of revenue.

Fairview Great House

Our two-hour bus tour covers a brief overview of the island’s colonial history via its Victorian and Georgian architecture. We wind our way around Basseterre to get a glimpse of the Berkeley Memorial Clock Tower, Independence Square (a former slave market) and on our way to the Fairview Great House and Botanical Garden, a small roadside produce market.

Fairview Great House-3

The beautiful Great House served as a hotel in its heyday. Though much of the building had to be taken down due to termites, many of its original details still remain from the 1700’s.

Fairview Great House-2

After lunch, we hire a cab to take us to one of the many lovely beaches not too far from the dock. South Friars Bay is stunning; we spend a good three hours swimming and snorkeling at Carambola Beach Club before making our way back to the ship (it’s super easy to arrange a round-trip fare and pick-up time with cab drivers).

St. Kitts-2

This is one spot I’d be more than happy to return to one day (there’s an international airport with future plans for terminal expansion).

Next up: Roseau (Dominica), Bridgetown (Barbados) and St. Lucia.

We were guests aboard Viking’s West Indies Explorer sailing. Opinions, as always, remain our own.

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