Our Cruise: The Ports

The main reason I chose the Ruby Princess over all of the other cruise options was the itinerary. We knew we wanted to do the Eastern Caribbean because I had already done the Western Caribbean, and I was hoping to find at least one unique island that was off the usual itinerary. With Grand Turk included in the Ruby Princess’ itinerary, and not in any others, this was the one.

Princess Cays

Our first stop, on our first full day, was in Princess Cays. This is the cruise line’s own private beach in the Bahamas on the island of Eleuthera. One negative about the port was that we had to be tendered in, which is a bit of a hassle and makes the day not as relaxing. With it being the cruise line’s beach, however, there was a free barbecue lunch, ample lounge chairs, and an overall safe atmosphere where we didn’t hesitate leaving our bags unattended while swimming. The water was beautiful, and it was neat to have the ship in the distant background.

View of the ship from the tender

Gorgeous water in Princess Cays

Luke and me with the ship

Princess Cays Tips:

– Take your time in the morning or you will wait in a long line for a tender ticket. Luke and I both worked out and enjoyed a leisurely breakfast and went down to get tender tickets about an hour and a half after the first tender left. We still had to wait about 20 minutes to be called. Next time we would wait even longer to avoid the crowds.

– Take either a mid-day or late return tender. As the afternoon wore on the lounge chairs kept becoming emptier and emptier. At one point we looked over and there was a line about a quarter mile long of people waiting for a tender back to the ship. We waited until the second to last tender was coming back from the ship before we headed over to the line. Luckily it moved quickly for us.

– Don’t pay for a clamshell. There was ample free, shaded seating on the free side of the beach, and we heard people saying how hot it got in the clamshells.

St. Maarten

Pulling in to St. Maarten was absolutely gorgeous. Since we’d been anchored out at sea at the previous port, it was cool to be right on the island and able to see people walking around and what was going on.  We opted to do our own individual excursion and head to Orient Beach, which is on the French side of the island. After disembarking we walked to a taxi line and joined a group of 6 heading over to Orient Beach in a van. For $6 each we got a safe ride and a colorful verbal history of the island.

Orient Beach came highly recommended by a family friend, Diane, who said it is the prettiest beach she’s ever been to. And, it was beautiful. It was a very lively beach, with lots of different beach clubs with lounge chairs and umbrellas, some of which had restaurants. There were also lots of water sports going on, including jet skiing, parasailing and kayaking. We opted not to do any of the waters sports here because we we didn’t want to leave our stuff. We seemed to be sitting around visitors who were likely staying on the island, not people from the cruise ship, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to relax for an hour on a jet ski knowing our stuff wasn’t secure.

In hindsight, we probably should have just gone, because we weren’t able to do water sports at either of the next ports, and we were both pretty disappointed. Next time I will better judge how much cash to bring so I’m not worried about theft. The beach was beautiful for relaxing and a swim, and made me want to see more of the island.

Orient Beach

Where we hung out for the day

Enjoying a beer while waiting for lunch at a beachside restaurant

St. Maarten Tips:

– Unless you’re part of a large group, try to find others heading back to the ship to share a taxi with. We ended up in a van with a couple who was going back to their resort near the capital town of Phillipsburg. The detour took about an hour, and our taxi driver then proceeded to drive slow and honk at other cruisers trying to get more fares. This was time we could have explored the port shops or relaxed on the ship.

– Prepare for unpleasant bathrooms, at least along Orient Beach. Luke used the facilities at our beach club, Bikini Beach, while I used the facilities at another, and both were barely useable. I was glad I had hand sanitizer, but wished I’d brought toilet seat covers.

– Beware the nudist resort at Orient Beach. In our emails about St. Maarten, Diane warned me that Orient Beach is a topless beach. Looking back, she also told me that there is anudist resort on the south side of the beach. I missed this information until we returned and I was going through all of the preparation emails about the trip to file them away. Anyway, we got quite the surprise when the handful of topless women turned in to fully nude 70 year old men and women lounging around. This area is definitely not family-friendly.

St. Thomas

We pulled in to St. Thomas at sunrise, and from there it was love at first site. We docked at Crown Bay, which is much more industrial than the usual dock in the heart of downtown Charlotte Amalie. We were on the starboard side which had a nice view of the ocean, but were surprised by the not so pretty scenery on the port side of the ship when we went to breakfast.

We had a pre-booked excursion for this port, a catamaran sail over to St. John with snorkeling. We were on the Champagne Cat, which true to it’s name had rum punch and champagne flowing on the sail back. Despite a little bit of rain when it was time to jump into the water for snorkeling, the trip was beautiful and a lot of fun. We both agreed that St. John was our favorite island, it was very tropical and undeveloped, and definitely worth a return trip.

Sunrise in St. Thomas

St. John

Enjoying rum punch on the Champagne Cat after snorkeling

Luke took over the helm for a moment (in the marina)

St. Thomas Tips:

– We heard that lots of people enjoyed their trips to Magen’s Bay, both with planned excursions and on their own, but that it was very crowded. To avoid crowds, its often best to skip the must-see attraction when you’re on a cruise and there are hundreds of others who will want to visit the spot as well, and instead go when you visit the island for a vacation.

– Crown Bay, which is the annex port, also has shops and restaurants, so if you are on an excursion you don’t need to stop in Charlotte Amalie for souvenirs.

Grand Turk

Grand Turk was the island that I was most excited for, because it seemed so off the beaten path and very few people I know have been there. Pulling into the island, the water was beautiful. And when we got off the ship, it was even more beautiful. There weren’t many excursions for Grand Turk, so we opted to do our own thing. We were in port from 1p.m. until 7p.m., which was a short amount of time, and kind of an odd time of day.

Walking off the ship there were shops and a few restaurants, with Margaritaville being the biggest and most popular. They had hundreds of loungers on the beach, bars, the restaurant and a huge pool. We got drinks, found a spot shaded by palm trees and hung out there for a while. I went swimming for a bit and then we shopped and walked along the beach. We wished we’d done one of the planned excursions, maybe the golf cart tour, because we didn’t see any “real” parts of the island… we were in the Jimmy Buffet version of paradise all afternoon. Also, it was weird sitting on the beach with the cruise ship right in front of us. As Luke said, it was cool for a bit, but then you just want to look out and see the ocean.

Pulling in to Grand Turk

Really wish that jet-ski wasn’t in the picture

2nd round of drinks at Margaritaville in the late afternoon

Grand Turk Tips:

– Grand Turk has a cruise terminal with shops, restaurants and more that is accessible only to cruisers. If you just want to relax, sun and shop, this is perfect. However, if seeing the real Grand Turk is of interest to you, it would be smart to book a tour. We found the cruise terminal nice and safe, but a little sheltered and boring and wished we’d seen more of the island.

– If you want to stay near the cruise terminal but have a more authentic island atmosphere, walk down the beach to Jack’s Shack. Everyone on Cruise Critic raved about this place. We saw it on our beach stroll before getting back on the ship and wished we’d hung out there instead of Margaritaville.

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