What a Difference a Day Makes

Alison and I have flown in to Georgetown, the capital of Grand Cayman (and the Cayman Islands), from Jamaica. As with Jamaica this is a revisit, as I’m not sure that half a day off a cruise ship snorkelling counts. Three hundred miles and it’s yet another world. Very flat. Pristine. A series of interlinked lagoons, especially in the west. Very American. Plaza after plaza. Lines of car rental shops. Huge neat car parks. Four lane highways. And signposts. Low rise apartment blocks pretending to be traditional Caribbean architecture. Incongruously, chickens run around squawking. They feature right across the island and are useful for hoovering up any scraps of food we drop, whilst we’re picnicking. I’m assuming no foxes here. The only predators are the many vehicles.

Cars stop at pedestrian crossings, if we show the slightest inclination to cross the road. They even stop to let you out at junctions. Best of all, a huge supermarket offering everything we couldn’t find in Jamaica. And just about anything you could want to buy to eat. Beautifully stocked meat and fish sections. At a price. I fill two shopping bags with goodies - for 200 USD.

The Cayman Islands - in a Nutshell

  • The Cayman Islands are a British Overseas Territory, three islands in the western Caribbean Sea: Grand Cayman, Little Cayman and Cayman Brac. They are believed to have been uninhabited before the first Welsh settlers came, in the seventeenth century. The smaller islands had been sighted by Columbus, who called them Las Tortugas (turtles) and then Sir Francis Drake landed on Grand Cayman. Early maps refer to them as Los Lagartos, meaning alligators or large lizards, But, by 1530,this had become the Caymanes after the Carib word caimán for the marine crocodile. There must have been a lot of them. The turtles were quickly depleted, as they became the mainstay of the economy, for export and eating.
  • Due to their location, the Cayman Islands are more likely than any other islands in the Caribbean to be hit by hurricanes.
  • There has been vast amounts of immigration over the last few decades - the majority of the population was not born here
  • At one point, the majority of the government revenue came from the sale of postage stamps, primarily to stamp collectors around the world

Georgetown, the Capital of the Cayman Islands

Georgetown (named after George III) is the largest town in the British Overseas Territories (BOTs) and a significant financial hub. There are almost 600 banks and financial institutions here. Twice as many companies as people. Though the first bank (Barclays) did not arrive until 1953. Plate glass office blocks are dotted around the edges of town (which spreads out a surprisingly long way across the island), spilling towards more traditional buildings in the downtown area. Some timber buildings could be correctly described as historical. More adopt the mock wooden Caribbean style, especially those around the cruise port (where every block is a mall). A few are actually made of concrete. This is where you find your Versace, Tiffany, and Gucci nestling alongside native vendors and craftsmen.

Restaurants line the wharf alongside the harbour. In between the boutiques, bars and cafes on the shore side are dainty churches, the parliament building, the site of an old fort (marked by a few cannons) and the island museum.

Cocoplum Apartments

We pick up a rental car and navigate smoothly to our Cocoplum apartment at the bottom of Seven Mile Beach, just north of downtown Georgetown. We have a little heart shaped swimming pool in front of us, sunbeds (screwed down, so sadly, we can’t move them into the shade), and a view out to sea, across a wrecked boat. Glass patio doors lead onto this area. It’s hard to tell when they are closed, so I repeat my trick from Tunisia and walk headlong into the door. This time my glasses come off worse than I do. We also have a resident teeny tiny curly tailed lizard who is not remotely afraid of us. Even so, I have to check he’s not a scorpion, his tail is held so high.

Seven Mile Beach

The wreck, the Gamma, offers interesting snorkelling. It’s not the prettiest section of what doesn’t really qualify as a seven mile beach (in my humble opinion). To start with, it comes in at just under six miles in length. And the land fringing the long crescent disappears entirely at several points along this, the quieter end. We have to make use of the various alleys leading to and from the parallel West Bay Road, when trying to explore north. There’s a thin strip of sand and seawater channels, accessed by stairs cut into the exposed coral. I’ve read that storms have caused some erosion and there’s plenty of construction work along the shore here too.

Reefs more or less encircle Grand Cayman, which is why the islands are renewed for its snorkelling and diving. There are snorkelling spots all along seven mile beach right down to Georgetown, in the harbour and beyond. The one close to the Burger King is known as Cheeseburger Reef

Seven Mile Beach is yet another of those beaches that’s touted as best in the Caribbean, maybe twelfth in the world. It’s lovely, but not that amazing. As I’ve said several times before, these best beach in the world lists are way off. I don’t think the Bahamas counts as the Caribbean, but Anguilla and the BVI certainly do.

Governor's Beach

Another couple of miles further up, Seven Mile Beach widens. Here, it is called Governor’s Beach, imaginatively named, as it’s right in front of the Governor’s House. There are signs in front of a low chain fence, requesting privacy. The Cayman Islands are more British than Great Britain. The governor presides over garden parties wearing one of those big cockaded hats. Even the Christmas decorations feature the flag of St George. It’s been created in wide banded satin ribbon along the wall of one tall block.

Here, the beach could rightfully be called beautiful. The sand is soft and inviting. The sea is a translucent swirl of contrasting blues, warm and shallow. There’s what seems to be the best snorkelling on Seven Mile, a few hundred yards off shore. It’s not fantastic, I hurry to add. More, mostly dead, coral, and there are a few shoals of vibrantly coloured fish. Some of them intrepid specimens, keen to eyeball us snorkellers.

Grand Cayman is an odd shape. The Georgetown area and Seven Mile Beach looks as if it sits on its tail. On the opposite side of the tail to the long stretch of beach are marinas with glitzy malls and restaurants. The most well known is Camana Bay.

Cemetery Beach

At the top of the tail is the North End and West Bay. At West Bay. Cemetery Beach is, you guessed it, adjacent to an old cemetery (they’re all bedecked with artificial flowers here) with a narrowish strip of sand and a peaceful vibe. Shade is provided by casuarina trees . They’re gracefully atmospheric, but the needles make a patchwork on the sand and invade all your clothes and stick to your towels. Here, I meet up with Ron and Anne, who have just come from Negril in Jamaica, where I’m heading next. They live in Lindfield in West Sussex, where I used to have a house. It really is a small world.

Cemetery Beach has another reef, even further off shore. Ron is going to come in with me, but first his equipment all floats away on the swell, and then he discovers that his mask is too small. These are the sort of rolling waves that fill your swimsuit with sand, but you don’t realise until you go to the toilet and it all falls out. There are dots of purple fan coral and even fewer fish. Cayman might be one of the best snorkelling spots in the Caribbean, but it’s not a patch on other parts of the world. If I remember correctly it’s better when you take a boat. Nevertheless, I mustn’t complain. It’s nice to able to snorkel off-shore at all.

North End, Grand Cayman

The North End is more quirky. Bestrewn with less pretentious homes, gentler, more rural and further away from the financial mecca. Though it hasn’t escaped hotels and apartments all together. There are quiet lagoons and a medley of limestone formations. One area named Hell is especially full of dark pinnacles. This is a very polarised population. and Hell is where the less well off tend to live, Unsurprisingly, the locals have capitalised on this with a gift shop and a post office, where you can get Hell postmarks - if you’re so inclined.

The formations meet the coast at Turtle Reef for scenic views, more snorkelling and some cafes. There are gorgeous wind swept beaches all along the North End coast to here and round the edge of Barker National Park, where horses wait patiently for clients to ride them along the sand. There’s a whole line of dune buggies next door. I'm unsure whcih is the safer option.

Circumnavigating Grand Cayman

The key must-do in Grand Cayman is Stingray City and I went there on my last visit. Time to explore the island then. I’ve read that we should allow two hours to circumnavigate Grand Cayman. It takes us about three hours to work our way right round the coast to Rum Point and then Starfish Point, with frequent photo stops. The traffic in Georgetown, both ways, is incredibly heavy, despite the four lane highways and huge roundabouts. Nobody bothers to use the indicators on their expensive shiny land rovers And there are gargantuan American style trucks thundering by. Living with the rich and powerful isn’t always paradise, it seems.

Smith’s Barcadere

Just south of Georgetown is Smith’s Cove, more exotically known as Smith’s Barcadere. Formed from the coral reef, it’s incredibly photogenic. And has really easy (straight off the sand ) fairly decent snorkelling alongside all the reef cliffs. There's even an exciting altercation with an octopus. I had no idea they could camouflage themselves so well against the coral. I would swear this one turned white and then brown, depending on the light. I’ve read that they can change texture too, to match their surroundings.

Spotts Beach

Spotts Beach, on the south road, isn’t actually that easy to spot. We zoom past. It's accessed, like all the beaches, down public right of way footpaths and it's another gorgeous piece of palm backed sand. Though there’s a stiff breeze blowing off the reef in front.

Pedro St James

Further along the south road, Pedro St James, is home to the oldest stone building on Grand Cayman. It’s actually called a castle, though it doesn’t look like one to me. William Eden, an Englishman, used slave labour to build it, in 1780. You can buy tickets to go inside and visit and there’s a swanky gift shop and restaurant attached. We just peer at it from the road.

Bodden Town

Bodden Town, the first island settlement, is the old capital of the Cayman Islands. (The first settlers were Welsh - the islands are thought to have been previously uninhabited.) The place is named after William Bodden, a government leader. It’s now the fasted growing district on Grand Cayman. Perhaps they’ve run out of space in Georgetown. Traditional buildings line the main road. The most notable is the Mission House, intended to depict life as it used to be in the islands, though its origins are murky.

East End, Grand Cayman

The East End is where the real Caribbean begins. Mangrove forest, lakes, low subtropical forest and wild and windy beaches draped with sea weed and facing a vividly turquoise lagoon. There are blowholes in the raised coral. Gun Bay, as it’s name suggests, has cannons lining the road and Colliers Beach is gorgeously picturesque.

Barefoot Beach

Turning the corner to the North Side of Grand Cayman, still more beaches running alongside the road. The sand almost disappears at Barefoot Beach, where the once lofty trees have succumbed to the winds, bending over at almost 90 degrees.

North Side, Grand Cayman – Rum Point and Starfish Point

Rum Point, at the end of a straggling peninsula on a bay opposite Georgetown has still not reopened after Covid. There are major renovations underway and JCBs blocking the path. The area between here, a series of pools and lagoons lined with houses and apartment blocks is known as Cayman Kai.

Right at the tip is Starfish Point. It’s tranquil and exceptionally pretty – shallow waters, white sand and casuarina trees to bask under.

At least, it’s tranquil until all the tour boats turn up to admire the poor cushion starfish dotted, mainly solitary, under the dappled water. Loud music blares and the visitors munch lobster tails (it’s obviously an up market tour), as they splash around, asking if they can pick up the beleaguered echinoderms. Apparently, they want to make bikini tops out of them. The answer is no, they will suffocate out of the ocean. It doesn’t stop the intruders examining the creatures underwater. Some of the starfish beat a hasty retreat. The information boards say that their numbers have decreased rapidly over recent years. I wonder why.

Queen Elizabeth II Royal Botanic Park, Grand Cayman

The Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park is advertised as having seven main attractions – the Visitor’s Centre, the Floral (Colour) Garden, an Orchid Boardwalk (the banana orchid is the national flower), a Xerophytic Garden (plants which need little water), a Heritage Garden (sand and a traditional house and yard), a Woodland Trail, and the Children’s Garden. We enjoy a leisurely wander along the mile long woodland trail - rainforest, jagged limestone pools.

Then, through all of the other areas, except the Children’s Garden. The floral garden is indeed bright and attractive, with huge versions of all those plants, marantas, crotons, philodendrons, that we try and grow in pots at home. The two-acre lake, on the edge of a buttonwood swamp is tranquil and a brilliant mirror for the palm trees jutting over it. It’s also home to small Central American turtles called hickatees who paddle over, in the hope of food, give us the once over and then drift off.

But all this is incidental. We’ve come to see the endangered Grand Cayman Blue Iguana. It only lives on this island and the Botanic Gardens run a conservation project. They tell us that 40 of the creatures wander the park and I’m determined to see one. After a quiet start, my wish is granted and several iguanas of various shapes and sizes make themselves known. as does a rare and shy agouti, for five quivering seconds.

It's been a great and contrasting week. Now we’re headed back to Jamaica.

Saturday - Great Bay and a Plethora of Caribbean Martins

I've flown into Sint Maarten from the British Virgin Islands. The contrast between here and the Virgin Islands couldn't be more marked. I've gone from quaint backwaters to full on 'civilisation'. One guide book refers to this as the Las Vegas of the Caribbean. The narrow road from the frighteningly efficient spanking new airport is lined with high end shops almost the whole way. Chopard, Tiffany, diamonds abound, as you would expect, interspersed with the odd casino. Philipsburg is Cruise Ship Central. And even though this part of the island is Dutch everyone speaks English with American accents and trades in dollars. Though, here on the Dutch side, they also use the pre-euro florins.

Sint Maarten, The Friendly Island - in a Nutshell

  • Most of the Caribbean islands round here (Leeward and Windward) were named by Columbus. (Actually he named Nevis St martin but the name was accidentally transferred.) Sint Maarten was discovered on the feast of St Martin. It's a teeny island, unusually divided into Saint Martin and Sint Maarten, a bit of the Netherlands and a bit of France.
  • The island was nominally a Spanish colony, but the Dutch found it a convenient halfway point between their colonies , settled there and began mining salt. After ongoing tussles the Spanish repossessed the island and then abandoned it again. Now it was the turn of the French and Dutch to fight over the land. The Dutch colonists came from St. Eustatius, while the French came from St. Kitts. Eventually, but nota ta all amicably despite the document's name, they signed the Treaty of Concordia in 1648, which divided the island in two.
  • Both French and Dutch imported large numbers of African slaves to work the plantations, but as their numbers grew, the slaves staged rebellions, and in 1848, the French abolished slavery in all their colonies including the French side of St. Martin. Slaves on the Dutch side of the island protested and threatened to flee to the French side to seek asylum. The local Dutch authorities then had to follow suit or slaves just escaped to the other side of the island.
  • The Dutch section of the island takes up just under half of the land area.
  • Sint Maarten is a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, along with the Netherlands, Aruba and Curaçao. countries
  • Sint Maarten is dubbed The Friendly Island.

Today's beach is Great Bay. The hotel and sands are ultra-boutique, white canvas umbrellas, rattan chairs and piped saxophone - from seven in the morning. Hulking ships monopolise the horizon. I can see the sailing clipper I am booked to travel on for the next week bobbing around behind them. It looks really tiny in comparison. The quay where it is moored is called Dock Maarten - really.

And now perhaps I should go get a Martini?

Caribbean Cruising On Board the Star Clipper

One of the three tallest ships sailing the seven seas. It's all very - well, nautical. Brass and wood with navy and gilt upholstery, and lots of knots. They haul the sails up ceremonially every day to the Van Gelis 1492 theme tune. It's surprisingly moving, though there isn't much wind and we use the engines most of the time. I'm secretly quite glad. The sails are very picturesque, but I'm told the tall masts make for a lot of rolling if the sea is remotely rough.

The crew are very cosmopolitan - Filipino waiters, Goan sailors, Eastern European officers, Swedish Vikings on the sports team. It's their job to entertain us at night as well as look after us during the day. They deliver an amateur variety package, including comedy sketches and a fashion show, involving a surf board. The passengers are mostly retired Americans. Others are English, French, German, I'm the only single on board.

Sunday - Nevis - Pinney's Beach

We've reached Nevis overnight, so today it's Pinney's Beach. Columbus thought the central volcano looked as if it had snow on it (nieve), so that's how it got its name. Last time I was here I got the ferry over from St Kitts and explored the tiny main settlement of Charlestown. It’s very colonial, but then so are both islands, They were 'The Mother of Colonies'.

More plantation houses, sugar mills and forts than spectacular coasts. The beach here is pretty, but narrow. There’s not a lot of shade, unless I wander up to the one hotel, and the sports team forgot to bring the umbrellas. So I get the tender back to the ship and lounge on the deck, by one of the two wedge shaped swimming pools. Most of the Americans are very friendly. I know everyone's life history already.

Monday - Dominica - Cabrits Beach

Dominica (named as it was discovered on a Sunday) is famed for its natural beauty and lush foliage.

I skirt Cabrits Beach – it’s black volcanic sand - on my way up into the mountains for a nature hike in the rainforest. There are very few buildings, certainly more vegetation than habitation.

Dominica, Nature Island of the Caribbean -in a Nutshell

  • Dominica is nicknamed 'Nature Island of the Caribbean'. It is purported to have 365 rivers, one for each day of the year. Though no-one seems to have checked this convenient number. This is another island that passed from French colonists to the British. It became independent in 1978.

Unfortunately, the guide puts in a no show and so do most of the birds. It’s damp and misty, more Jurassic Park than cheerful Caribbean. There is forest, stretching as far as the eye can see, with just glimpses of cobalt ocean. The canopy stretches above. There are tree roots like the flanges of giant wheels and lianas tangle around them.  The odd hummingbird zigs in and out. Any chance of an additional sighting is thwarted by the shrill tones of Claire from Key West. I don't think she pauses for breath once, on the whole circuit.

I go to avail myself of a relaxing massage on the upper deck when I get back. But I can still hear her squeaking away in the bar below.

Tuesday - Les Saintes - Anse Crawen

Les Saintes are nine weeny islands (two are inhabited), which are part of Guadeloupe. They are very green and very hilly. Today's beach is Anse Crawen, on the quietest part of Terre-de-Haut Island, There is a log to perch on, plenty of sand flies and some reasonable snorkelling round the headland. As on most cruise ships, there's no shortage of food. There are always snacks available and you can order what you like from the dinner menu. Tonight, I have three main courses.

Wednesday- Guadeloupe - Caret Island

First of all, I'm famous. There was a trivia quiz last night where you had to run up and beat a drum. As most of the questions were geographical I won fairly easily, seeing off the French and the Germans. So today everyone is congratulating me. That wouldn't have happened in the UK, where I would have been ostracised as a ‘know all.’

The ship has taken us to Guadeloupe proper. We've docked at the little town of Deshaies, on the northwest tip of the butterfly. It's famous as being the location for the filming of Death In Paradise, which regularly features the gorgeous local beaches. The distinctive red steepled church dominates the skyline, but it’s a short acquaintance.

We pile into a creaky bus and zip across the top of the butterfly wing, to Sainte Rose, to pick up a little motorboat. Thence, sputtering through a scattering of mangroves, eyed warily by pelicans and egrets perched on almost every available branch, to a proper little reef and some decent snorkelling. Then lunch on minuscule Caret Island, so swathed in palm trees we have to be seated on lashed wooden poles laid on the sand. Classic Robinson Crusoe.

Guadeloupe - in a Nutshell

  • Guadeloupe is not a country, but is an overseas département and region of France, so the currency is the euro and flights to France are 'domestique' .
  • The archipelago contains many islets and four inhabited islands, other than Les Saintes.
  • The original colonial name (bestowed by Columbus) was Santa María de Guadalupe.
  • The two main islands, Basse-Terre (west) and Grande-Terre (east), form a butterfly shape.

Then, dinner with the captain. This involves a lot of champagne (before he goes onto scotch) and conversation that refuses to veer from politics, ships and alcohol. He's from Ukraine and is clearly still mourning the demise of the Soviet Union.

Thursday - Falmouth Bay - Pigeon Beach - Antigua

I've been in Falmouth Bay before - it's just round the corner from English Harbour and is the Caribbean Mecca for yachts belonging to the rich and famous. The main pastime is trying to guess who owns what. And I'm feeling a little queasy, as the ship is rolling something rotten, there's been a swell all night. Antigua is a country of beguiling bays and is reckoned to have 365 beaches (that convenient number again), so there is nothing for it but to head to nearby Pigeon Beach, which is yellow and gorgeous, and laze on the sand.

Friday - St Barthelemy - La Plage de St Jean

St Barths is a replica of the Côte d'Azur. The capital, Gustavia, is full of high end shops - and beautiful people. La Plage de St Jean has sand floored beach bars, plush hotels and the whitest sand, with water for which the word aquamarine was invented. The beautiful people parade up and down in their designer gear. It is très, très chic, with prices that are très, très high to match.

Alongside the beach, is possibly the world's smallest and scariest airport. The air taxis come in over the road which runs across the top of the island (the cars have to stop) and bump down the hill to the beach. When they take off, they zip straight over our heads, accelerating madly in a bid to gain height, before they hit the sea. It's a local pastime to sit in the water and watch them; it's a bit like playing Russian roulette.

Our last night on the boat. Much to everyone's amusement the captain asks for my email address. I think he just wants some photos.

St Barthelemy - in a Nutshell

  • St Barthelemy (named after Columbus' brother) and commonly called St Barths, is another piece of the French West Indies, an overseas collectivity. The island was a Swedish colony in Napoleonic times. Hence the capital is called Gustavia. It was the only Swedish colony in the area and the islanders voted to return to French rule when a century had passed
  • St Barthelemy was once also part of Guadeloupe, which is an overseas département of France. For this reason, it is part of the European Union and the euro is used as currency. In 2003, the people voted in favour of becoming independent from Guadeloupe and the French Parliament passed a bill granting autonomous overseas collectivity status in 2007 (at the same time as St Martin).
  • The slogan of St Barths, plastered everywhere is :Toi Là! Je t'aime! (Hey you! I love you!)

Saturday - St Martin - Grand Case

Back on dry land, in St Martin. This time nipping across to the French Side, as the border signs say. I'm getting a free ride with Bob and Sandra from Somerset, as they are booked into the same hotel. It's truly a schizophrenic island, it's much quieter over here, but still relatively built up and very clean, organised and prosperous.  There is no official border, other than the sign, but you have to make an international phone call to talk to the other side and here the first language is definitely French.

My gorgeous little hotel is right on Grand Case Beach, a large turquoise bay, with views across to eel shaped Anguilla. Grand Case is renowned for its French restaurants - about 50 of them lining the waterfront. I have views across the bay from my balcony and a nonstop natural history documentary by my door. Two straggly little dove chicks are ensconced in an untidy nest that is balanced precariously on a palm tree branch. Mummy and Daddy Dove watch anxiously from the telegraph wires, cooing loudly when I walk past. Dad forages around the hotel balconies for food and Mum arrives at regular intervals to feed her offspring or to attempt to perch on top of them, even though there really isn't enough space and it seems that she will topple out at any moment.

St Martin, the Other Part of The Friendly Isle - in a Nutshell

  • Like St Barths, St Martin was part of Guadeloupe, an overseas département of France. and it is now an autonomous overseas collectivity (from 2007). So, it is part of the European Union and the euro is used as currency.
  • It is the larger, but less densely populated part of the island of St Martin.

Sunday  - Maho Beach - Ducking Planes - a Caribbean Pastime

Today takes the three of us to Maho Beach, on the Dutch side, which is pretty, but crowded, as it offers more airport entertainment (this seems to be a Caribbean pastime).  This beach is right at the end of Princess Juliana International, so visitors get their kicks by hanging off the perimeter fence to experience the force of the slip stream as the jets take off. Some of the thrill seekers are blown right over. There are signs saying its dangerous (!) but access doesn't seem to have been restricted in any way. When planes come in over the sea to land, the voyeurs leap about, waving at the poor pilots, as they roar above us.

Monday- Marigot Bay

My trip to Anguilla is cancelled as it is raining. Not all bad news as it clears up quite quickly. It's exhausting lying on a beach bed all day and I can at least see Anguilla across the water. We eat Creole supper at a Lolo (local food restaurant) on Marigot Bay, lights twinkling on the marina.

Tuesday - Il Pleut - Orient Bay Beach

Today, it really is raining, with a vengeance. There isn't much to do on St Martin except go to the beach or shop and most of the shops are the expensive duty free kind. Orient Bay is one of the contenders for best beach on the island - there are several, but it isn't very welcoming. The damp Caribbean weather is encouraging the mosquitoes; this is slightly worrying as there are even PA announcements on arrival at the airport here warning about the dangers of being bitten. Dengue fever is more of an issue than malaria and we are told there is an increasing threat also from chikungunya fever. Neither has a cure. In addition to the usual mosquitoes there are pesky miniature versions called 'no see ums' that zip in the smallest crack the moment the door is opened.

Wednesday - Baie Longue

Today I fly to Antigua so, perversely, the weather is gorgeous. A quick stop at Baie Longue on the way to the airport, just to say good-bye. The flight is a disaster though. The Caribbean carrier plane is badly delayed (LIAT = Leaves Island Any Time) with no announcements whatsoever. Eventually it is cancelled altogether and I am squeezed onto the earlier flight, which is even more badly delayed. I arrive in Antigua minus my luggage and nobody seems very sure about where it is or how I will get it back. And it was only a 30 minute flight...I am exceedingly grumpy when I eventually arrive at my hotel sans toothbrush, well sans everything.

Thursday - Jolly Harbour, Antigua

I’m in Jolly Harbour, where I’ve also been before, but I'm still grumpy, despite the name. My hotel has definitely seen better days (it’s only two years old) and the service is decidedly indifferent. It's trying to rain again. However, there is some Caribbean cheer, as my bag arrives mid-morning and entertainment is provided by three kittens who have decided to adopt me and take it in turn to sit on my veranda.

I saunter down to the nearest stretch of sand. On the way,  I pass a large supermarket and a motley collection of shops and cafes, gathered round a small yacht basin that’s part of a large lagoon. There’s a huge hotel formed of several large blocks surrounded by an unkempt garden and a lot of wall. It has a gigantic beach café that serves copious amounts of alcohol, so everyone is indeed making merry. It’s all a bit uninviting, nowhere near as pretty as it used to be. Maybe it’s the weather colouring my vision.

TGIF in the Caribbean

A last chance to enjoy the heat and colour. It's sunny again, well naturally, as I'm on my way home from the Caribbean. Life's a beach...

Carnival Cruises

I've never been on a cruise before and am told I have to try it now I'm in Florida. So I'm off to Jamaica and the Cayman Islands. How to describe the cruise ship that leaves Miami ? It is as glittery and tacky as the Starship Enterprise. A floating Blackpool. The passengers aren’t exactly the upper echelons of American society. Imagine your average Jerry Springer audience and you just about have it right. And most of them would make two of me. The cause is fairly clear. There are mountains of food, sit down restaurants, sushi bar, burger bar, pizzeria, café, most of it open all day. They still pile their plates as if Lent is about to begin.

In order to cope I investigate the cocktail menu. Lime daiquiris are much too good. As is a green concoction called a sour apple martini.

'Smirnoff, Stoly, Grey Goose or Absolut ma’am?'

Life on Board

I 'm duty bound to spend most of my time in the piano bar, avoiding the Butlins style shows. My cabin (which is surprisingly roomy though right at the bottom of the boat)  turns out, unfortunately,  to be wired to the loudspeaker system, but we don't quite sink to hi de hi. There is room telephone too, which my table waiter Dennis, (Denzel Washington look alike) uses every night (against company rules) to call and ask if he can come and drink wine with me in my room. It's a case of 'Which part of no don’t you understand?'.

There is a posse of other single guys around, or rather men on their own, as rather too many of them, confess to being married under interrogation. So I hang out round the piano bar with melancholy Barry, the piano man from Wisconsin. After serenading me with Van the Man and Billy Joel he asks if I will go and visit him in Florida. He says he’ll drive me to New Orleans.

So plenty of opportunities – just not very inviting ones. I spend a lot of time stretched on a sun bed snoozing and hook up with the only other English people on the boat. Juan and Omar (OK I know they don’t sound English but they are), a couple from Dulwich. They had much the wittiest conversation, although to be fair the competition is not strong. Juan is totally shaved with two silver teeth in front, while Omar has gorgeous eyes and a very wide mouth that makes him look just like Zippy. On Friday they feed me so many cocktails of the day that I totally lose the afternoon. They are reeling a bit from the experience too. (The cruise that is).

Cayman Islands

The Cayman Islands are a British Overseas Territory, three islands in the western Caribbean Sea. Grand Cayman, the largest island, is known for its beach resorts and varied scuba diving and snorkelling sites. Cayman Brac is a popular launch point for deep-sea fishing excursions. Little Cayman, the smallest island, is home to diverse wildlife, from endangered iguanas to seabirds such as red-footed boobies. The territory is most well known, perhaps controversially, as a major world offshore financial haven. As a result of all these wealthy people visiting, Cayman is considered to be up-market and ultra expensive. Read more about the Cayman Islands here.

Grand Cayman

We're headed for Grand Cayman. I disembark from the ship and sit in a café in the sprawling capital of the Cayman Islands, Georgetown, waiting for my snorkelling boat. I can see my monster liner straddling the bay, alongside a couple of smaller  liners. An English resident, out for his constitutional, strikes up conversation.

'Which one is yours?' he inquires.

I blush and point. 'Ah yes', he says, 'we call those the trailer trash of the sea'.

Today, Cayman is miserable, even in the sunshine. It's been  totally flattened by a very recent  hurricane; there isn't a a building with a complete roof left and the famous Seven Mile Beach is a pile of wreckage. 

But the snorkelling is great. There's  a moray eel – fat and green, with huge eyes like Omar’s. Then we swim with the stingrays at Stingray City. They climb right up you, really soft and velvety and very tickly. We all squeak like crazy.

Jamaica

I can't help thinking of that old joke.

'Jamaica?'

'No, she went of her own accord'.

She did.  Though Bruce insisted that a cruise out of Miami was an unmissable experience.

Jamaica has a tropical climate and is famous for its mountains, rainforests and reef-lined beaches. It's economy is heavily dependent on tourism. But it's also famous as the birthplace of reggae music (its capital Kingston is home to the Bob Marley Museum) and the Rastafari religion. Read more about Jamaica here.

Ocho Rios, Jamaica

Ocho Rios is a port town on the north coast of Jamaica, described as up-market and safe (unlike some parts of the island). It's a former fishing village, transformed into a too busy cruise ship resort and a packed  bay beach.

There are Dunn’s River Falls to visit, but I'm told there isn't much water there and they're crowded, full of tourists slipping over.  The USP  is the scramble up them. And  I'm tired of the masses and the massive cruise ship organisation involved in arranging excursions, So, I've chosen to wander on my own this time. Before we landed in Jamaica the on-board entertainers  made us practise saying 'Yeah man'. On land it is more a case of 'Naw man'. The whole time I'm walking I'm offered  grass or I'm tapped up for education or hospital fees. Otherwise, it's a beautiful lush destination, with great beaches, but the snorkelling is mediocre. Cayman in reverse.

Back to Florida.

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