St. Lucia-“Island of Splendor” tour

ABOARD OCEANIA RIVIERA, DAY NINE — Day nine, really? The calendar says it’s Friday, but on a cruise they really do all run together. It truly is just another day in paradise.

Today’s slice of paradise is St. Lucia, another island we have never visited but have heard so much about. So we are really looking forward to taking the “Island Splendor” tour.

The weather gods are smiling on us once again. This day is bright and sunny. Riviera is docked at Pointe Seraphine in the capital city of Castries. Along with its colorful scenery, this nation of some 180,000 has a colorful history as well.

We learn ownership of St. Lucia has changed frequently since the French settled it in 1660 — 14 times to be exact. First it was the French, then the English, then the French again, then the English and so on until England prevailed in the 1800s.

The restored English fort at La Toc Battery

That point was illustrated on our first tour stop, La Toc Battery — a restored English fort. Thanks to the efforts of a private citizen, tourists can tour the site, including the barracks under the cannon placements. It also affords a splendid view of Castries harbor and our ship.

Other stops on our three-hour jaunt include St. Marks, a private residence on a hillside where refreshments are served and you can take in the jaw-dropping views from the veranda, and the beachfront village of Anse la Raye, with its rows of street vendors, wandering dogs and chickens and fishing boats.

In between we saw the banana plantations that provide one of the main exports (they even sell banana ketchup), unusual rock formations along the coastline and learned about local cuisine (salt fish and green figs is a favorite dish). But overall, the tour didn’t measure up to the others we’ve taken on this cruise.

The tour stops for these women selling dolls

Our guide was hard to understand, and started every sentence with “Ladies and Gents.” A few times would have been sufficient. There were also the unscheduled stops, including a roadside banana stand where sample bananas were passed around and wares were hawked. It happened again when we stopped for two women selling dolls by the side of the road. The guide took one through the window and explained what they represented, then asked if anyone wanted to buy one for $10. Ironically, she had just cautioned us shortly before about not dealing with unauthorized street people.

We were disappointed we couldn’t visit the famed twin “Pitons,” mountain peaks on the west side of the island. Or experience the “drive-in volcano.” Bad planning on our part, but something we’ll do next time for sure. By the way, if you crave adventure, we hear St. Lucia has the longest zip line in the Caribbean. Let us know how you liked it and send photos.

A stop at the village of Anse la Raye

Sailaway is earlier today: 4 pm. As the Latin sounds of Duo Essenza fill the air, we depart for our last port of call, St. Maarten, a distance of 273 nautical miles. Tomorrow is of course New Year’s Eve, and there’s a gala party scheduled on the pool deck (weather permitting). We’ll finally get the wear the masks we created in the Artist Loft.

One side note for you sports fans: This is high season for bowl games and playoffs, but don’t plan on watching at a multi-screen sports bar on the ship. There isn’t one. In fact, the only sports channel available is ESPN on your stateroom TV. I’m having major withdrawal symptoms.

And in case you were wondering: Pam’s shopping quest continues. She came away with a locally-crafted St. Lucia necklace. I am a little surprised there isn’t an island named “Diamonds International.”

Tomorrow: Happy New Year!

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