Caribbean shore excursions: One good, one not so

ABOARD THE SILVER SPIRIT –Today we were on the island of St. Maarten/Martin and we took a ship shore excursion that visited five art galleries all around the island.

POOL SHOT: Francis Eck displays his paintings around his pool

Not only did we visit some very interesting artists, but three of the galleries were in their homes. There were 11 in our group and we had a very nice 29-passenger bus that was air-conditioned. Our guide spoke good English and was knowledgeable.

I liked this excursion because it visited both the Dutch and French sides of the island and because it took me to many new places on an island I have visited many times, including a couple of resort stays. The price was $49 and we were with our guide for over three hours. We opted to be dropped off in Philipsburg (the final artist stop) where we had lunch before returning to the ship. It was extremely hot this afternoon, so it made me appreciate the morning even more.

Yesterday in St. Bart’s was an entirely different story. The first “hiccup,” if you will, in what has been a seamless Silversea trip. First of all, we were there on a Sunday, so almost all of the shops were closed. Not good planning on an island where the shops and restaurant are key to the experience.

Antoine Chapon hangs his work around his desk

We selected the “Full Island Tour a tour with Helene.” It was billed as a superb half-day tour that is part of the Silver Sea Collection. We expected a really exceptional experience. Unfortunately, this was not the case. First of all, they scheduled three Helene tours, beginning at 8:30 a.m., 12:30 and 2:30 p.m. We were in the middle group and there were supposed to be seven of us.

When the first group was dropped off and we were being picked up we immediately saw the problem, they unloaded seven people from a small, non-air-conditioned van. One fellow was muttering, “That wasn’t worth it.” They started to load us and we were not impressed…the van was old, somewhat dirty, the seats not comfortable and, I repeat, there was no air-conditioning. By now, the temps were in the mid-80s.

They tried to stuff Chet and I in the far back seat with another woman and Chet declared, “No way, I am not going,” and backed off the trip. Smart man, my husband. One man’s wife did not come so that left us with five… the maximum that should have been booked into this vehicle in the first place. So at least we had adequate room.

Helene Bernier leads tours of her native St. Bart’s

While Helene was knowledgeable as a guide – she was born here and here family has been here since the 1600’s – the trip only covered half of the island. Also, she took us to her house for a refreshment break…this might have been interesting except… Drinks were water, iced tea or a so-called rum punch that was lethal. Cats prowled and roosters strolled the yard. (People on the third tour said the rooster was in the kitchen when they were there.)

Rolanda Bernier weaves straw in an ancient way

The toilet offered us was her private toilet, with her toiletries on the counter and her towel hanging over the edge of the shower. A bit too intimate for my taste. Just not quite what I think the average Silversea passenger would expect. But, for me, the worst part was all of the bugs biting my ankles on her lanai…I finally had to walk around just to keep them off me.

So we returned at 2:30, all extremely hot, bitten and, in my case, with my back hurting. Not a stellar experience for $139 per person. I believe Silversea has to take another look at this excursion. Much that was promised did not happen.

Photos by Chet Janssens

November 26, 2012




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