Are cruises good or bad for the Caribbean?

Over twenty years ago I visited the island of St.Thomas in USVI on Sovereign of the Seas. Even back then, cruising was excellent value but still not mass market, at least not to Europeans. Cruising has been this way for much longer to the US market and even back then the average age was 37 on Royal Caribbean.

When I arrived at St Thomas, I liked the new modern shopping centre, but also wanted to see some of the island, so I got a local bus costing 75 cents to Coral Bay and the underwater observatory which I really enjoyed and after an hour or so relaxing by myself with a book, I got a taxi back to Magens Bay to rejoin my group. This meant that I had time to see some of the island under my own steam, meet the locals, enjoy a few drinks, relax on the beach and go shopping and I went away with a good and lasting impression

At that time Sovereign of the Seas was the largest cruise ship afloat and at 73,192 it is only one third of the size of Royal Caribbean’s newest monster the Oasis of the Seas which is a massive 225,282 tons and carries a maximum of 5,400 passengers, Nowadays Sovereign of the Seas would be considered small by Caribbean cruise standards but I would still consider this to be an ideal size of ship, stable enough to cut through the waves, big enough to have lots of facilities on board and still personal enough to ensure good food and service and avoid long queues at the buffet.

About seven years ago, I arrived to a very different St Thomas. The modern shopping centre, now tired and covered in grafitti. The local bus no longer exists, just a costly safari truck to the shopping mall or back to the ship, or a ship’s excursion to Drake’s seat and a purpose built craft market and a free cocktail. There was no way that I could go out and discover the island for myself, so I left with a very bitter taste and have no desire to ever go back to the island again.

On the same cruise I had the opportunity to visit St. Maarten and really looked forward to that. I liked Philipsburg up to a point but with six other cruise ships there at the same time it was swamped with more visitors in a day than the entire population of the island so how can it possibly retain it’s unique Dutch/French character when the shops are all run by Indian immigrants and there are about 10,000 day trippers waiting to be fleeced. Take no notice of 50% off signs or cheaper than Argos. The prices have been inflated to compensate for the “discount”.I took euros to St. Maarten as it is their official currency. I wanted to buy a hat. This was 5 euros or 5 US dollars. Naturally I paid in US dollars but why would they want a lower value rather than accept their own currency? We did take an excursion to the French half which was a little more expensive but without the haggling, an altogether nicer atmosphere

I did once go to St Kitts and joined the sugar train which I really would recommend. It is unique and really enjoyable. Basseterre does have one of these terrible American shopping malls with Tanzanite and Colombian Emeralds but walk straight through it and beyond that is a good old fashioned caribbean town, where children still play cricket on the green, the locals say hello and there is a baptist church with peeling paint badly in need of renovation. Please leave it alone. I love Basseterre just as it is

I once stayed in Antigua, a happy and friendly island. We got the bus to St John’s, the capital to find a couple of cruise ships in. Strolling round the market and the shops we found rudeness, greed, over inflated prices and a real attitude problem so we quickly went back to our hotel and bought our souvenirs from the beach hawkers who were far more polite and friendly

I recently went to Cancun and specifically asked for Cozumel on a cruise free day. I trusted the person selling the tours and arrived in Cozumel to find five cruise ships including the aforementioned Oasis of the Seas. The moral of this story is, make sure you check before leaving home

Fortunately Southern Caribbean doesn’t get so many cruise ships because it is further away from Miami and cannot be done in a week so St.Lucia, Tobago, Trinidad, Grenada and even Barbados have not been so badly affected by cruise ships but even so they all have new cruise terminals . These islands say they want more cruises so that the locals can make money from selling crafts and this is fine, I love to buy local crafts. What I object to are outsiders simply cashing in not only on day trippers but also normal visitors. I have also found that some of the once vibrant craft markets no longer open when the cruise ships are not around so it is now quite difficult to buy things like spice necklaces and local art, so have to rely on beach hawkers to sell them to me

So overall I do agree that to some extent the Caribbean benefits from the extra revenue that cruises bring providing this is properly controlled and no more than two cruise ships are in port on any one day. I am really sad to see this over saturation of visitors changing the character of the Caribbean and I fear that some of the islands, like St Thomas and The Bahamas have definitely changed for the worse.


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