Here’s the next part of my Virgin Voyages cruise to the Southern Caribbean: Barbados, St. Lucia and Antigua, after last week's post about Puerto Rico, the BVI and Guadeloupe. Now that the cruise is over, I have some perspective about this itinerary.

As I talked with my fellow travel advisors, we mostly agreed that nearly all Caribbean cruise ports are similar, if not the same. They have candy-colored buildings lining the shore and, in the hills, a place for cruise passengers to visit for an endless supply of duty-free items, which are mostly liquor, cartons of cigarettes, local items like the ever-present Tortuga rum cake in its distinctive octagon boxes and any other items. There are often shops that people would encounter in their nearby outlet malls, like Coach or Tommy Hilfiger.

Many cruise guests think they can walk around the immediate vicinity of the cruise port and appreciate what that place offers. But I disagree – you must often escape that tourist-clogged area and rampant capitalism. How do you remedy that? Hire a cab to take you to a treasured local place, like the beach of your fantasies. Or, go on a shore excursion.

We were on both ends of this with the last three ports. One was quite active, while the other was low-key. The one day we didn’t do an organized shore excursion was an exercise in improvisation. 

Bridgetown, Barbados

Cruise Planners had originally planned a day pass for our group to visit Sandals Royal Barbados. While I’m not a huge fan of all-inclusive resorts, especially the overpriced Sandals, I would have enjoyed going here. But that activity fell through, and we were left with walking into Bridgetown, the country’s capital and largest city.

A warning: it’s a nearly one-mile walk from the far cruise dock, where Valiant Lady was, to the center of town. Along the way, we dodged a few dozen taxi drivers asking if we needed a ride. Most of the time, I think this could be a potential scam where we pay way more than we’d like to. But it might have been the best thing to do because we could have gone to a more scenic place.

Instead, we viewed a few buildings styled in the British colonialism that ruled much of the island for centuries. There was also one street where 80% of the businesses were duty-free shops. So, my suggestion for visiting Barbados is to schedule an activity, even if it means taking a taxi to a beach.

Castries, St. Lucia

I’ve heard wonderful things about this destination. I’ve sent several clients here as a travel advisor, and they all enjoyed their stays. But for RAS and me, we only had a few hours to spend time here.  To do that, I chose a Virgin Voyages-sponsored shore excursion called Chasing Waterfalls: Jeeps, Bikes and Hikes because it was the kind of active tour we both love.

Heading out with the group of two dozen or so, we rode in a converted pickup truck on winding roads that ascended and descended. Our guide rode along with us and related the history and culture of the island, which gained its independence from the United Kingdom in 1979. We stopped in a small community called Anse La Raye, where we took bikes that seriously needed repair or an upgrade. But the ride was at least beautiful, and we rode along a dirt road to a trail leading to a waterfall.

Most people on the excursion had water shoes, but I didn’t. Luckily the guides helped me navigate the rocks along the several times we had to cross streams. We encountered a trickling but tall cascade pouring into a pool at the end. A few people took a dip, and I would have, too, if I had worn my swimsuit. But no matter – it rained hard several times, and so we got soaked anyway.

St. John’s, Antigua

This destination was our last, and I once again had the opportunity to visit a Sandals resort. But since I didn’t hear about it until it was too late to sign up.  Instead, my friend and I went on an excursion called the Real Rum Diaries, where we took a van into the town and stopped at a small outdoor bar.

Locals talked about the origins and importance of the Caribbean’s favorite spirit, rum, of which every island has its own creation. They presented only Antiguan because it was naturally “the best.”  There were several different kinds, ranging from a popular but inexpensive brand to one distilled over time and more costly. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to try that one.

But they served us a plate of local food, including jerk chicken (which wasn’t that different from the Jamaican kind), conch fritters, and salad. I would have loved to try the Antigua national dish, pepper pot (a meat and veggie stew), but they only showed us a picture. It was good to have some food with all the rum we tasted. Otherwise, I would have been wobbly getting back to the ship.