Lucy Rudgard, Senior Travel Consultant for Oceans and Islands based in our San Diego office, would call herself a reluctant cruiser, with the idea of embarking on a cruise not particularly inspiring her wanderlust. However, while cruises may not have previously been at the top of her “to-do” list, a recent Caribbean cruise experience with Explora Journeys changed her perception. Titled ‘UNESCO Treasures Below and Above the Caribbean Sea’, the 9-night cruise was a return trip from Barbados and docked at several stunning islands en route. Read Lucy’s daily blog to find out about her cruise experience and keep an eye out for her helpful cruise tips below.
Let me start by Introducing myself. My name is Lucy Rudgard and I’m Senior Travel consultant at Scott Dunn. For over 25 years I have specialised in luxury holidays for discerning travellers. I love luxurious accommodation, untouched beaches, dazzling sunsets and fine dining cuisine in exotic locations. The properties I enjoy the most are always the ones I end up recommending to my guests. Previously, cruises have not been my “go-to” option for a holiday, as I prefer to enjoy my luxury holidays on land.
So how do you persuade a seasoned travel professional, with absolutely no desire to set foot on a cruise liner, to take a 9-night cruise around the Caribbean?
Well, the answer is never simple but somewhere between an enthusiastic sales manager, a cajoling husband and maybe, just the thought of being forced to relax for a little bit, helped me overcome my trepidation.
The real answer, however, lies in the cruise company itself, Explora Journeys. They are a new cruise line from the MSC group, aiming to transform luxury cruises into true ocean journeys by inspiring travellers to embrace the ‘Ocean State of Mind’. Keen to share their new luxury cruise ship Explora I and the new ships they are building that are on the horizon, Explora Journeys offered my lucky husband and I the chance to join their “UNESCO Treasures Below and Above the Caribbean Sea” embarking in Barbados. So two first-time cruisers got the chance to see how reluctant they really were.
Day 1: Barbados to Dominica
The ship sailed a few hours later than expected - which meant we had a good 6 or so hours to get to know the ship and its amenities. We enjoyed a complimentary bottle of Moet on arrival to our suite. The ship also stocks high-quality beverages that are available for free at every bar and restaurant.
We were blown away by our first lunch at the Emporium Marketplace with a huge selection of food options from all over the world. You could try sushi, Indian, Italian - even African cuisine! All served in a beautiful restaurant that definitely felt more like a fancy farmers market than a buffet.
After unpacking, we enjoyed sunset cocktails by the pool at the Astern Bar, followed by a delicious meal at the Pan-Asian restaurant Sakura. As we hadn’t pre-booked, the only seats available to us were at the sushi bar. This turned out perfectly for us as it was fun being able to watch the chefs at work and tasting their recommendations!
After dinner we headed to the Whiskey Bar and struck up conversation with our fellow travellers before heading to the Journeys Lounge to enjoy the entertainment and DJ and even a little dancing.
Day 2: Dominica (Roseau Port)
In hindsight, some forward planning would have been good for this day as we hadn’t organised a tour, taxi or rental car. Not really knowing what to expect, we just took the complimentary bus and walked around Roseau town centre.
A helpful tip would be to review your itinerary for day visits and chat to a travel expert or do some research on your own to make the most of your time. The onboard travel writer offered daily educational talks about our upcoming destinations. This was super helpful however I would also recommend doing some research yourself as the onus is really on the guests planning and researching themselves. Also, I’d recommend hiring cars or booking local tours in advance to make the most of the destinations.
The afternoon of day 2 was spent whale and dolphin watching on a large “rib” boat - this was an amazing experience with a small group booked through an Explora discovery concierge. Being in a rib, rather than a larger boat, meant we were able to get really close to 2 or 3 whales.
Day 3: At sea
The in-suite dining for breakfast was a lovely experience - quietly eating on the terrace overlooking the ocean. I spent the morning at a conference meeting the Explora Sales staff and a tour of the ship while my husband enjoyed a small group stretch class at the gym.
We enjoyed a delicious lunch at the Mediterranean yacht club before relaxing by the stern pool for a few hours. This is one of the few restaurants you don’t have to book in advance. After a pleasant afternoon in the infinity pool, we attended a talk to learn about Bonaire Island as well as a chat with a local Marine Biologist.
Pre-dinner cocktails at the stylish lobby bar with resident pianist, then dinner at the French Restaurant Fil Rouge.
After dinner we enjoyed a full band performance with soul singer Michael Washington at the Journey’s Lounge before heading to the Whiskey Bar to meet more fellow cruisers - one couple mentioned this was their 90th cruise and by far the best they have ever experienced!
Day 4: Bonaire (Kralendijk Port)
We rented a car from Kralendijk (another tip to try and book this ahead of time as it can be hard to find one when there’s a ship in port). I would also strongly recommend getting a proper car not one of the ubiquitous golf buggies - which by the sounds of it are quite a bumpy ride! The Island was small and had lots to offer from Pink Sand beaches, flamingos, salt flats and some of the most amazing snorkelling. We spent a lovely morning snorkelling with lots of turtles after which we headed off to the northern shores and found some amazing beaches reminiscent of the Mediterranean.
Kralendijk itself was a quaint small town with lots of boutiques and restaurants to enjoy. We ended the day at the east side of the island watching all the kite and windsurfers.
We enjoyed a stunning sunset walk back to the ship before enjoying our full experience at Sakura. This was probably our favourite restaurant and the best day of the trip.
Day 5/6: Curaçao (Willemstad Port)
This morning we enjoyed pilates and stretch classes at the fitness centre before using the brand new Italian Techno Gym equipment. The centre has floor to ceiling windows overlooking the ocean and even mirrors on the ceiling so you see the ocean at every angle! An amazing sensation with all the sea birds and open water to entertain you while working out!
Willemstad is a large vibrant port town with lots of local street markets. We found a wonderful local cafe above the Maritime Museum where we enjoyed local delicacies and chatted with the staff to learn more about Willemstad. We spend the day exploring the city before heading to a coastal restaurant overlooking the port for dinner.
The following day we hired a car and enjoyed driving up the coast to the north of the island to Kleine Knip and Cas Abao beaches - which were amazing with some great snorkelling and beach bars.
Back on the ship we enjoyed some afternoon yoga classes before using the equipment at the gym - the staff were on call to help with technique or using the machines/weights. There is also a walking/running track on the top level of the ship which laps around the ship with a small area with outdoor fitness bikes.
Day 7: At sea - Curaçao to Martinique
We spent the early morning enjoying the spa (which is complimentary to guests without reservations between 8-10 am or 6-8 pm daily) - for 2 hours we enjoyed the steam room, salt room, sauna, hydrotherapy pool and ice treatment! It was a great experience. We then headed to the play ball on the top deck. After it started to rain, we headed down to the Conservatory pool and bar. The conservatory has a retractable glass roof so perfect spot to relax and read or enjoy a few lengths in the pool.
After lunch we relaxed by the Astern Pool and Bar, enjoying the sunset and last few hours of daylight, on our full day at sea. Before heading down to meet my husband I popped by the Gelateria & Creperie for the most delicious crepe dessert.
We joined a few couples that we met on the dolphin and whale watching experience at the Explora Lounge for pre-dinner drinks - there was a wonderful pianist and singer performing. This is also where they offer afternoon tea with cakes and sandwiches.
This evening we checked out the popular Mable & Co for dinner - the most amazing ambience and fantastic steaks. This was the only time we were able to eat here as it was very popular - they try and limit the busy restaurants to one visit for each suite per trip. The evening was spent playing pool and catching up with fellow travellers at the Malt Whiskey Bar.
Day 8: Martinique (St Pierre Port)
Morning pilates class at the gym followed by our daily incredible breakfast at Emporium Marketplace! We decided to walk around St Pierre Port on Martinique and we learned all about the fascinating history of this historic port that was entirely destroyed by a volcano in 1902. We explored on foot and made our way up to the fascinating memorial museum past some of the derelict buildings and monuments.
We found a wonderful local restaurant called La Vague where we sampled simple but delicious Creole cuisine on the waterfront for lunch then headed up the beach where there were a few local beach bars. The black sand beaches were beautiful with super clear refreshing water to enjoy an ocean swim.
This evening we enjoyed an organised dinner at the Mediterranean Yacht Club with a handful of other travel agents and sales representatives from Explora.
Day 9: St Vincent
We spent the morning on an organised tour arranged by Explora. If you’re travelling purely for leisure, there are a number of excursions to enjoy on this day, including catching a ferry to Bequia.
Our last evening was spent at Sakura for dinner followed by farewell drinks at the Malt Whiskey Bar with fellow travellers.
Day 10: St Vincent to Barbados
After packing up the suite the night before (all large bags must be placed outside your suite before retiring) we were able to enjoy a chilled morning and breakfast at Fil Rouge before disembarking at 9am. We then spent the day at the port of embarkation before taking a taxi in the afternoon for our flight home.