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What to do in Anchorage, Alaska?

What is there to do in Anchorage?  LOTS! Some of our favorite activities are renting bikes, visiting the Ulu factory  or just walking around downtown.  There is also a great museum that is well worth the time. (Several of the cruise line busses depart from this location.)  You can even go to a baseball game!  And don’t forget to get a reindeer sausage…absolutely delicious!

Baseball in Alaska, you ask?  Yes!  Anchorage is home to two teams of the Alaska Baseball League: the Anchorage Glacier Pilots and Anchorage Bucs. In addition to the Glacier Pilots and Bucs, high school and American Legion games are played at Mulcahy.  It has a natural grass outfield and an infield of FieldTurf. It has one of the largest capacities of any outdoor sports facility in Alaska. Many college players go north each summer to play and to be seen by major league scouts.

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Biking is a great option for all fitness levels, because the experience is what you make of it. Take relaxing rides along paved trails and enjoy the scenery.  Or….try a thrilling mountain bike adventure. Biking makes for a great individual or family activity away from larger tours.  There are many trails in and around Anchorage and several places to rent.  One of our favorite rides is the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail.  It is an easy journey around the Anchorage airport, with paved paths and the chance to see wildlife and beautiful scenery.  Be sure to give the wildlife a wide birth though….they are WILD and will attack is threatened.

The Ulu factory is close to downtown.  It is down the hill, close to the train station.  The factory provides a free shuttle, if you choose not to walk.  It runs from 10:00am and to 7:00pm June, July and August  Inside you can watch the knives being made, the blade and handle assembled and packaged.  A staff member will be happy to take you on a personal tour.   You can also see a demonstration on how to use, sharpen and care for an Ulu knife and cutting bowls.  There is a nice gift shop in the building where you can purchase the knives and other Alaska products.  Just behind the building is a salmon creek with viewing platforms.  If the salmon are running, this is a great location to see them.

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The Anchorage Museum is a large art, history, ethnography, ecology and science museum located in a modern building in the heart of Anchorage.  It is dedicated to studying and exploring the land, peoples, art and history of Alaska.  The museum is located at 625 C Street.  Cost of admission is $18/adult, $12/senior, student or military with ID, $9/ages 3-12 and free for 2 and younger.  We found it to be a pleasant way to spend a few hours and learn more about Alaska.

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Downtown is very walkable with shops, a tourist information center (where you can get information on a free, guided walking tour) and the Alaska Public Lands Information Center (where you can learn about Alaska’s wildlife and wilderness through a scavenger hunt for children).  At least one of the shops will have a piece of glacier ice you and touch!

We ALWAYS make sure to visit one of the hot dog carts in downtown and to get a reindeer sausage.  Believe me…there is nothing like it!  You can get a regular or spicy one, with or without grilled onions.  YUM!

No matter what you choose to do in Anchorage, you will enjoy your visit!

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Norway Fjord cruise on the Celebrity Eclipse!

In August of 2017, we visited our daughter in Hove, England and family friends near Sheffield.  After spending several days traveling around the country, we boarded the Celebrity Eclipse in Southampton and headed to Norway!

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photo by cruise.co.uk

We had visited two of the ports on a previous cruise and were looking forward to seeing them again and to exploring several new ones.  This was a special cruise for the Eclipse…they only visit these ports twice per season…once in the spring and once in late summer.

First stop was Bergen, where we had been before.  This time, it was pouring rain and windy, but we went ashore and walked around the Hanseatic port.  Bergen is very walkable.  The hop-on-hop-off bus is also a great option to explore the city.  Be sure to visit the outdoor fish market and try some of the local sausages, which include reindeer, elk and whale.

After returning to the ship and drying out, we received a lovely surprise in our cabin from Captain Leo and enjoyed a delicious dinner in the main dining room.

The next morning we arrived in Flam.  Flåm is a village in southwestern Norway, in an area known for its fjords. It sits at the end of Aurlandsfjord, a branch of the vast Sognefjord. The dramatic Stegastein viewing platform juts out high above the Aurlandsfjord. South of Flåm Harbor, the 17th-century wooden Flåm Church lies in the valley. The Flåm Railway offers valley and waterfall views as it climbs to a station on the Hardangervidda plateau (wikipedia).  We opted to not take the railway and instead hiked to the Brekkefossen waterfall.  It was a pretty steep and strenuous hike, but the views from the top were 100% worth it.

On the way back to the ship, we passed the Aegir Brewery.  It is the local brewery in Flåm and has received several awards for their delicious tasting beer.  The brewery opened in 2007 and has been named “Norway’s BrewPub of the year” three years in a row.  The brewery produces a wide range of varieties of beer and offer many types of different flavors, with seasonal varieties.  Be sure to visit the Gilde hall which was built in the Viking style, with walls marked by driftwood dragon heads and a 9-meter-high chimney.

You can also purchase a pint in the historic hotel, Freitheim Hotel or the Bakkastova Cafe.  Both are located very close to the fjord and provide great views of the ship.

 

After our adventures, we were exhausted and returned to the ship to enjoy the evening with another wonderful meal in Silhouette, the main dining room.

Geiranger was our next port of call.  We visited this port in 2014 and were excited to be back.  We chose to walk up the stairs alongside the Fossevandring waterfall.  It is an easy walk with metal steps and hand rails.

On the prior visit, we visited the Union Hotel, which we decided to do again.  We enjoyed a quick glass of wine for me and a beer for my husband.

After visiting with the front desk, we decided to do what they described as an “easy, 20 minute hike” to the local farmhouse.  Let me just say….boy, were they wrong!  An hour later, and another straight up climb, we reached the Westerås Farm and Restaurant.  Even though the climb was tough (especially after the climb we did the prior day), the view was once again amazing and totally worth the effort.  The restaurant is housed in a building dating from 1603 and has panoramic views of Geiranger. We met some wonderful English ladies on the way up and joined them for another beer and some Norwegian waffles with homemade strawberry sauce.  Delicious!

We decided to walk back down to the ship via the road….SO much easier!  And the views were just as stunning.  Geiranger has a really cute port area with shops and food stalls.  A favorite of the crew is the coffee shop just across the street from the main shopping area.

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It was hard to believe we only had two ports left.  Alesund was next on our agenda.  Ålesund is a port town on the west coast of Norway, at the entrance to the Geirangerfjord. It’s known for the art nouveau architectural style, in which most of the town was rebuilt after a fire in 1904.  It is a very walkable town with cobblestone streets and is surrounded by water.  Many tourists visit the Aksla viewpoint, the Sunnmore Museum, or walk through the Art Nouveau district (many buildings have numbered plagues that correspond to a map that is available at tourist information).

We found the Miracle House.  About ten thousand people became homeless when 850 homes were lost during the great fire in Ålesund on January 23rd, 1904. One house in Grensegata remained standing among the ruins. Anders Nor, who lived in the house, was visited by an angel the day before. The angel promised that his home was going to be spared. Furniture that was removed from the house lit up in flames but the house stood unharmed when every other building in the eastern district burned to the ground. The house was built around 1870 and has been the property of the Walde family.  In 2012, the Pentecostal Church Filadelfia Ålesund aquired the house. It has since been restored and is now open to the public free of charge.  There is a small kitchen were you can purchase a tea and cake to enjoy either in the house or on the patio.

That evening, we were invited to the helicopter deck for sail away.  As we left the port, a tug boat gave us a nice send off.

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Our final port was Stavanger….another city we had never visited.  Stavanger is a city in southwestern Norway.  In the center of town, Stavanger Cathedral dates back to the city’s 12th-century founding.

1Stavanger Museum chronicles the city’s history and displays preserved wildlife. The Norwegian Petroleum Museum illuminates the oil industry with submersibles, a large drill bit and an escape chute. Thanks to the oil industry, Stavanger has grown into a thriving city.  There is also a lovely shopping street Øvre Holmegate, which is known for its colorful houses, and an open air market.

We decided to take the hop-on-hop-off bus, as our legs were very tired after 3 days of strenuous walking.  It was a great way to get a good overview of the city and decide what we wanted to go back and see.  One of the buildings I wanted to visit was Ledaal, a manor house which served as the official residence of the King of Norway.  It was closed for the season when we arrived.   Ledaal was built between 1799-1803 by Gabriel Schancke Kielland as a summer residence and for the next 60 years the Kielland family spent their summers and entertained guests there.

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Across the street is Breidablikk Mansion, a mansion that was built by the architect Henrik Nissen in 1881. The owner was the merchant and ship owner Lars Berentsen, one of the leading businessmen in Stavanger at that time.

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Both the interior and the exterior of the house are exceptionally well preserved and offer the public a vivid insight into the lifestyle of the wealthy inhabitants of the city at the end of the 1800s.

The house was built in the Swiss style with touches of Romantic and Gothic influences. The interiors are amongst the richest and best preserved examples we have of the historic style, including furniture in the Gothic, Rococo, Baroque and other contemporary styles. The buildings and the interiors demonstrate high quality workmanship with a collection of paintings, including works by Kitty Kielland and August Jacobsen.

In addition to the main building, the old main house and barn from 1852 still stand. The barn contains an exhibition of farming equipment and horse-drawn vehicles. The park is in the English style, containing curved paths and exotic trees, which are also well preserved.   Unfortunately, this building was also closed for the season when we arrived.  

The garden surrounding the main building however, is open to the public for free year round and was established in accordance with the design of gardener P.H. Poulsson. The original design has to a large extent been preserved. Characteristic of many of Poulsson’s garden designs to be found in the city are the winding paths, the avoidance of sharp angles and the use of exotic trees. 

Just next to where our ship was docked was Old Town, a charming area on the west side of Vågen with 173 wooden buildings from the turn of the 18th century.  Most of them are small, white cottages. Stavanger has received several awards for its efforts to preserve Old Stavanger and is a popular living area, with many galleries and handicraft boutiques.

As we left the city for our journey back to Southampton, we passed the Stavanger Concert hall, where they were hosting the first night of the Utopia Festival, a new pop and electronica city festival in Stavanger.  We could hear the music and cheers from the crowd as we sailed past.

That evening, we had the honor of having dinner with the Hotel Director in Tuscan Grille.  We enjoyed a wonderful dinner  with some of the best wine we have had in years….Belle Glos, a 2015 Pinot Noir from Monterey and Les Tuilieres, a 2016 Sancerre.  We were very honored to join Mr. Petts and his other guests.

After a relaxing sea day, we arrived in Southampton.  Disembarkation was very smooth and we were soon on our way to a nice visit and dinner with some friends from a prior cruise.

We spent the night at the Hilton Heathrow Terminal 5.  I highly recommend this hotel….the location is quiet and is easy to reach via taxi or shuttle.  The following day, we board our Delta flight home.

 

Must have souvenirs!

When we travel, I love to bring home mementos of our journey….both for me and for friends and family.  But this can be challenging.  What do I get?  How do I get it home?  It needs to be small, unbreakable (most of the time!), useful and fun.

When going to Alaska, I love to buy small boxes of smoked salmon for gifts.  I have also discovered Alaska sea salts by the Alaska Pure Sea Salt Company.  This company is based in Sitka, Alaska.  I first discovered them in Ketchikan along Creek Street.  I have tried the Alder Smoked salt and the Sitka Spruce Tip flake and can recommend both!  They are delicious on steak, chicken, fish and roasted vegetables. http://www.alaskapureseasalt.com

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Since first finding this easy, packable souvenir, I have looked for salt and seasonings in other ports.  I have found some in the Caribbean and in European ports.  Keep your eyes open in outdoor markets and tourist shops.

One of my all time favorite things to do in a foreign port is to visit a local grocery store.  I usually can find small jars of mustard packaged in something fun, like a drinking glass.  France is where I first discovered these, but I have also found them in Germany and Sweden.  It’s so much fun to open the jars months later and experience a taste of my journey!  Have a look around the store….you may find some local candy, flavor/cooking packets or other small items that you can easily take home with you.

My son recently brought home this awesome platter he found in England at a Sainsbury. Since it is unbreakable, it was easy for him to put in his luggage.

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Last year we cruised to the Baltic and visited St. Petersburg, Russia.  We really wanted something special from here, but did not want to buy the typical Russian dolls.  Imagine our surprise when we walked past a Starbucks and found these!

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It looks like the Russian Matroyska nesting doll, but is a VERY useful hot/cold drink holder!  And for less than $10 each…how could we say no! 🙂 The perfect memory.  Both my daughter and I got one and use them constantly.

Other favorite souvenirs are kitchen items….such as dish towels and oven mitts.  These are always fun to use and bring back great memories of our travels.   And of course…don’t forget mugs and the tea to go in them!

These are just a few of my ideas and things I look for.  We are always on the lookout for T-shirts and sweatshirts, but how many of these do you really need and/or wear?

What are some of your favorite things to bring home?  I’d love to hear about them…maybe you will inspire me!

Phillipsburg, St. Maarten

The last port of our cruise was Phillispsburg, St. Maarten.  We have been here once before, so we decided to just stay locally and enjoy the beach.  Since we were here overnight, it was fun to see the town during the evening, when it was basically empty of tourists.  And we had the beaches to ourselves both that night AND the next day, as we were the only ship in port.

Be sure to watch our YouTube video of our visit at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c2RRwu1N63E

 

St. Maarten is an island country in the Caribbean and is a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.  It shares the island with Saint Martin, an overseas collectivity of France.  This is the smallest inhabited island divided between two nations, dating back to 1648.

The capital, Phillipsburg, has cobblestone streets and colorful, colonial-style buildings which line the Front Street shopping area. It is a popular cruise ship stop.

The Dutch side is also where you can find the popular Maho Beach, situated near the main runway at Princess Juliana International Airport.  Its position between a large hill and a beach provide some spectacular approaches.  Aviation photographers flock to the airport to capture pictures of large jets landing very close to sunbathers.

 

SXM Landing

By Krisspao – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30992505

I didn’t get many pictures of Phillipsburg, as we headed straight to the beach and I did not want to leave my phone unattended and in the hot sun.  Great Bay Beach is an easy walk from the cruise ship.  There is a nice boardwalk area with restaurants, bars and a few hotels.  You can rent a chair, umbrella and get several drinks for between $10 and $25 dollars.  Just depends on who you go to!

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The French side, Sint Martin, has the popular beaches of Orient Beach and Friar’s Bay. The town of Marigot has some wonderful restaurants serving French style food and local seafood.  Be sure to visit the large outdoor market next to the harbor, where you can find lots of souvenirs such as clothing, bags, hats and spices.  You can also find locals selling fresh coconuts, which they are happy to open for you.

 

 

All too soon, our overnight stay in St. Maarten was over and it was time to head back to Ft. Lauderdale.  Thankfully, we had another sea day before disembarkation. 🙂  Now it’s time to begin dreaming of and planning for our next Caribbean cruise!

Bridgetown, Barbados

Link to YouTube video on the port is here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GG8iBVuK0eQ

Barbados was first visited by Spanish navigators in the late 15th century and claimed for the Spanish Crown.  The island first appeared on a Spanish map in 1511.  When an English ship, the Olive Blossom, arrived in Barbados in 1625, the men took possession of it in the name of King James 1. In 1627, the first permanent settlers arrived from England.  Barbados became an English, and later, a British colony.  On November 30, 1966, Barbados gained its independence from England.  The island has retained many of the English customs, such as driving on the left, afternoon tea and cricket.

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Bajan cuisine is a mixture of African, Indian, Irish, Creole and British influences. The national dish of Barbados is Cou-Cou  & fried Flying Fish with a spicy gravy.  Flying Fish sandwiches are also served at many of the beach bars and are a popular snack.  We visited a local grocery store and bought several packets of Bajan seasoning.  Can’t wait to try it!

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We walked into town from the cruise port and found a fish market.  Oh how I wished I had a way to cook some of it!

In the center of downtown lies Broad Street.  It runs directly through the center of the city and passes the Parliament Buildings.  Here you will find the center of city’s shopping area.  Just across from the Parliament buildings is a statue of Lord Nelson, which is actually older than the one in London.  On the other side of the street, there is a canal which leads directly to the ocean and a small draw bridge for larger, private vessels.

The Mount Gay Rum visitors center in Barbados claims to be the world’s oldest remaining rum company, with an confirmed deed from 1703.  It was originally called “Kill-Devil” by the Barbadians who first distilled it.   Cockspur Rum, which began in 1884 when Valdemar Hanschell created the rum and Malibu, which began in 1893 and is now owned by Pernod Ricard, are also from the island.

After exploring the town, we walked back to the ship to grab our swimming and snorkel gear.  Barbados has some of the cleanest water in the Caribbean and is known for its expansive beaches.  After a short taxi ride, we found a spot on the white sand beach near Shipwreck Beach.  We didn’t see any turtles, but did see some fish.  The water was a little cooler than St. Thomas, most likely due to the fact that is situated with the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the Caribbean Sea on the other. Barbados is the easternmost island in the Lesser Antilles.   Even though it was a little cooler,  we were able to stay in the water for a long time and really enjoyed ourselves.  I highly recommend visiting the beaches of Barbados.

At sail away, we spotted a turtle swimming alongside the ship.

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This is one island I would consider returning to for a land stay.  It is a popular destination for the English and other European countries.  One thing to remember when packing though….camouflage wear by the non-military is illegal in Barbados….even by children.  It is actually a good idea to NOT wear this type of clothing in ANY Caribbean country.

Habits of Seasoned Travelers

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Seasoned travelers have developed strategies and adopted habits after years of travel to make their journeys easier .

Planning & Packing

  1. Make a calendar of your travel days.  I find this very useful when planning any trip.  Make sure to note the dates and times of each reservation.  I also include prices and locations of hotels, ports, car rentals and/or train schedules.  After the trip is over, I keep this calendar in a file with receipts and tourist information I gathered during our vacation.  I can’t tell you how many times I have referred back to my files when planning future trips….or just to remember what we did!
  2.  Make a checklist.  This will make packing soooo much easier.  Don’t forget items like sunglasses, passports, sunscreen, any medications you may need, or special items you want to take.  Start brain storming as early as possible prior to departing…think about the activities you are planning, possible weather and what types of clothing you will need.  Check off the items as you pack them.  Nothing is more frustrating then arriving at your destination and realizing you have forgotten something!
  3. Take a photo of your passport and email it to yourself.  Even if something happens to your phone, you will be able to access your email on a public computer.
  4. Purchase a travel wallet.  I have found this to be one of the most useful items in my carryon.  I keep boarding passes, passports, money, pen and my credit cards here.
  5. Contact your financial institutions and inform them you are traveling.  If you are planning to use your ATM and/or credit cards, your bank needs to know you will be making purchases outside your home area.  If you don’t, they may put a “hold” on your account and you will not be able to access your funds until you contact them.  If you are traveling out of the country, this can be difficult and expensive….not to mention frustrating.

Flying

  1. Mark you bags.  There are many fun, easily recognizable luggage tags available.  When it’s time to purchase new luggage, find suitcases that are not just black or blue….find some that are a little different….maybe a bright color or a fun pattern.  Even then….attach something to your luggage that helps you locate them easily.  We use luggage tags that are specific to our college football team….I guarantee not many people have those and they really stand out!
  2. Bring ear plugs or invest in noise-cancelling headphones.  Air travel is noisy.  If you are trying to watch a movie, read or sleep, these are invaluable.  It will also help to discourage a talkative neighbor!  I found a great review on noise cancelling headphone you might want to read: https://www.reviews.com/noise-canceling-headphones/
  3. Get access to an airport lounge.  You can purchase a day-pass to most airline lounges.  Consult the website of the airline you are flying for information.  If you have a long layover, this is a quiet place to wait and they offer complimentary food, beverages, magazines, newspapers and Wi-Fi.  Some even have showers or rooms where you can catch a few ZZZs.  Check out https://thepointsguy.com for excellent information on credit cards that offer lounge access.  And remember, if you are flying first or business class overseas, you automatically get free access!

Cruising

  1. Don’t overpack.  Make your packing checklist….and then cut it in half!  Well….maybe not in half, but don’t take ALL of it. 🙂  I have found that I NEVER wear all the clothes I take.  One or two nice dresses, skirts or slacks are fine for evenings.  Dress up your outfits with jewelry, shoes or sweaters/wraps for more formal evenings.  Same with shoes….a good pair for walking, poolside shoes and a dressier pair are fine.  And for the gentlemen….a pair of nice slacks and few collared shirts are all that are needed for evenings.  Check with your cruise line to see what the attire rules are or read cruise forums such as http://www.cruisecritic.com to see what fellow cruisers are doing.  Many cruise lines are getting away from the full formal evenings.
  2. Use over-the-door hangers for the bathroom to organize your toiletries.  We use a bag from LL Bean, but there are other options available at your local store.  Some people use the clear, plastic ones made for shoes.
  3. Bring magnetic hooks for the walls.  Ship cabins have metal walls, so this is an easy way to provide more storage.

Exploring

  1. Traveling to a foreign country?  Try to learn a few words in the local language.  Picking up a few words or phrases goes a long way…..as does a smile!
  2. Talk to the locals.  Ask them where they like to go to dinner or what they like to do for fun.  You may find yourself doing something you never expected to do….like we did in Scotland.  We were invited to the local ceili that evening!  We danced the night away with a whole roomful of new friends!
  3. Don’t over-plan.  It’s good to know where you are going to stay each night and have an outline of things you want to do.  But give yourself some leeway.  You never know what might present itself.  Spontaneity and adventure are part of the fun of travel!

Basseterre, St. Kitts

Next stop….St. Kitts and Nevis.

View the YouTube video at \https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VK30220Ythw

In 1493, Christopher Columbus sailed by the island of St. Kitts. Although he named it Sant Jago (St. James), later Spanish explorers confused this island with another that Columbus named St. Christopher. As a result, the island became known as St. Christopher. The name St. Kitts was adapted from St. Christopher.

Basseterre is the capital of the Confederation of Saint Kitts and Nevis. It is the gateway to popular Saint Kitts beaches like South Friars Bay and Cockleshell Beach. In the heart of the city, Independence Square has an Italian-inspired fountain. Just off the Circus traffic circle, with its Victorian Berkeley Memorial Clock Tower, is the National Museum. In the stately Old Treasury Building, it explores the islands’ colonial past.  And calling it Circus traffic circle is appropriate….it is a pretty crazy place!  Actually, the name comes from England and is a reference to Piccadilly Circus in London. The clock tower was built in Glasgow and dedicated to the former President of the Legislative Council of St. Kitts, Thomas B. H. Berkeley, in 1883.

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Basseterre is one of the oldest cities in the eastern Caribbean.  It was founded in 1627 by the French and served as capital of the French colony of Saint-Christophe.  After a turbulent history involving both the British and the French, St. Kitts gained its independence from Britain in 1983.  The city has one of the most tragic histories of any Caribbean capital, destroyed many times by colonial wars, fire, earthquakes, floods, riots, and hurricanes. Despite all of this, a considerable number of well-restored buildings still exist in downtown Basseterre.

Port Zante is only used by cruise ships.  There is a marina close by for other boats.  The Port can accommodate the largest cruise ships in the world.  It is built on a reclaimed 15 acre site and contains many shopping opportunities, including jewelry stores, clothing, rum and the St. Kitts Chocolate Factory.  St. Kitts Chocolate Factory was started in 2007 and uses carefully selected superior organic ingredients to create handcrafted chocolates using the world’s finest Belgium chocolate, butter, purées, spices, and nuts.  To say they are delicious is an understatement!

http://www.stkittschocolatefactory.com

We had a great time exploring St. Kitts.  The city is easy to walk around.  We got a great view of our ship from the top of the bell tower of St. George’s Anglican Parish Church, which was begun in 1856.  The current building is the 3rd church built on this site, with the first being built in 1672 by Jesuit Fathers. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._George%27s_Anglican_Church_(Basseterre)

Surprises awaited around every corner…even a colorful donut shop!

Right by the port, there was a cute red shack, selling wonderful smelling foods and local beers.

Unfortunately, we did not have enough time to explore the town and get to a beach, so I guess that will have to wait till next time!

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