ABOARD CRYSTAL SERENITY_No sleeping in today. We have arrived at the British Virgin Islands and are preparing to dock in Tortola, where we have an early tour booked.
Heavy clouds hang low over the island’s lush green hills, bringing rain with them. Given it’s the tropics, it probably won’t last long, but if you’re out and about, it’s a good idea to take the umbrella this time of the year.
Beside us is Norwegian Encore, several sizes bigger than Serenity, which assures a busy day ashore for the taxis and tour operators. I am particularly jazzed to be here, since a visit to the famous Baths at Virgin Gorda have been on my personal “bucket list” for some time. Several years ago, we were scheduled to make a stop here on another cruise ship line and were turned away by bad weather conditions. Thankfully, a little rain won’t deter us.
Pam is joining me, but not without some trepidations. The tour description notes some “strenuous activity” involving climbing up and down rocks. It’s not the climbing she’s worried about — she just doesn’t want to fall out or slip down and embarrass me. Our friends, Charlie and Beth, have done the Baths before, and reassure her it won’t be a problem. “You can do it,” Beth says confidently.
So like the trooper she is, she joins me as we walk to the ferry for the 30-minute ride over the The Baths National Park. The ferry will drop us at Spanish Town on Virgin Gorda, the second largest of the BVIs. The Baths are one of the Caribbean’s most iconic tourist attractions. What I’m anxious to see are the massive granite boulders that ring the beaches on the Southern tip of the island, forming interconnected grottos and “caves” that hold aquamarine pools of water.
On the way over, we were on the lookout for Nekkar Island, owned by Sir Richard Branson, one of our heroes. While we have met him in person, something tells me he might not remember that if were to knock at his door.
Once off the ferry, the tour operators seem a little out of sync as they herd us into the open-air taxis for the 10-minute ride to The Baths, attempting to pack too many people into not enough seats. We’ll wait for the next one, thanks.
The rain has stopped, replaced by the heat and humidity typical for this part of the world. We start by hiking down to the first of two beaches we’ll visit — Devil’s Bay. The trail is not difficult, although you do have to stay vigilant for slippery spots and uneven surfaces. Without a cooling breeze, Pam is glad she grabbed a Crystal umbrella as we left the ship.
As we reached Devil’s Bay, there was plenty to “ooh and aah” about. Massive gray boulders reaching into the sky ringed pure white sand and sparkling clear, multi-hued water. Several tour groups were already there, and people were busy swimming and taking pictures. With shade hard to come by, we pitched the umbrella and spread out a towel.
There was some confusion about where and when to go next. While the tour guide explained it at the top, with so many different tours converging at the same place, our guides got lost in the crowd. After 30 minutes or so, they did reappear and we were off for part two, a visit to “The Cave” and “The Baths.”
We didn’t get very far. A tour group in front of us was stopped and not moving. We quickly determined there was a massive traffic jam of tourists, all heading for the Caves. Since only one person can navigate the narrow openings in the rocks at a time, we were just inching our way there. It was like being in line for “Star Wars” at Disney World.
Once we got there, it was a little tricky: We had to climb up some slick rocks, sometimes with the help of ropes, and at one point had to maneuver a set of stairs backwards. But Pam did great (she once took a ropes course), and even lead the way. She made me proud!
Once at the Baths themselves, it was an even larger array of boulders, affording not only postcard views but also opportunities for swimming and snorkeling. There were also shops, restrooms and a place to buy something cold to drink.
Was it all worth it? Did it live up to the hype? I would say yes, it’s pretty spectacular. But if we go again, it will probably be in off season.
Back on Serenity, we have to hit the showers before getting to Waterside for lunch just before closing time. In the afternoon, Pam is following her gymnastics at The Baths with Earl Grey and finger sandwiches as they serve Afternoon Tea in the Palm Court, reasoning when in the BVI, tea is a must!
Tonight we’ll meet Charlie and Beth for dinner so we can compare notes on our tours and give them the good news that Pam did us all proud. The next two days will find us at sea, heading toward Key West and — unbelievably — the end of our holiday cruise.
That just means we have to enjoy the incomparable food and service all we can for the next 72 hours. And we will!
Cover photo: One of the grottos in The Caves, Tortola, BVI, credit Gerry Barker
Editor’s Note: More about Crystal Serenity and future sailings … https://www.cruisecompete.com/ships/crystal_serenity_cruises.html#shipinfo