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Seven Islands in Seven Days: A Cruise Around the Caribbean 

Palm+Tree+in+Barbados+
Palm Tree in Barbados

In December of 2023 my parents and I embarked on a cruise around seven islands in the Eastern Caribbean. It started with a red-eye flight from San Francisco, California to San Juan, Puerto Rico, with a short layover in Washington, D.C. The flight was uneventful, and we landed in San Juan around 3 p.m. This was our first time in Puerto Rico, and we were disappointed at first, primarily because of the mass amount of poverty and trash. The island averages about five hurricanes every year, most notably was Hurricane Maria in 2017, a category five that resulted in the deaths of nearly 3,000. The constant hurricanes make it difficult for the island to keep up, especially in the lower-income areas.

Outside view of the Viva

After eating lunch at a local restaurant, we took an Uber to the port. The roads were experiencing quite a bit of flooding due to a storm that was hitting the region. Thankfully we made it without an incident and got our first look at what would be our home for the next seven days. We were sailing with Norwegian Cruise Line aboard the Viva. The Viva is the newest ship as a part of Norwegians fleet and, in fact, this was only the third voyage the ship had made. It can carry up to 3,000 passengers and hold up to 1,500 crew members. This was our second cruise we had been on, the last being back in June of 2022 aboard the Norwegian Breakaway, an older ship compared to the Viva.

Our boat was delayed a few hours leaving port due to the fact a few passengers had experienced delayed flights caused by the bad weather. This gave us some time to explore the ship and our room. Our room had a balcony and felt more spacious than our last room on the Breakaway. My parents claimed the bed, and I was reduced to the fold out couch, which wasn’t all that bad. The ship had multiple pools and slides, as well as a game area, mini golf and most notably a go-kart speedway. It also had many restaurants, some nicer that required reservations, and others that did not. The staff were very friendly, and all wore name tags that said what country they were from, which I thought was cool.

My dad, mom, and I after ziplining in the British Virgin Islands

We woke up the next morning with beautiful views of the British Virgin Islands, where we would be spending most of the day. The ship docked near the town of Tortola, and we walked around the port before boarding the van for our excursion. The excursion took us on a zip line, high up in the mountains of Tortola. We saw beautiful views of our cruise ship and the surrounding regions. After our excursion concluded, my mom and dad went back to the room and I decided to sit out on the lounge chairs by the pool and watch Top Gear. Nothing is better than relaxing by the pool watching Jeremy Clarkson attempt to cross the English Channel in a Toyota pickup truck with boat engines strapped to the back. That evening my mom and I played ping pong and watched the go-karts dart around the speedway. It was a fun way to end the day.

The next morning, we woke up bright and early in the port of St Johns, the capital city of Antigua and Barbuda. That day my mom and I were going on a helicopter tour of the

My mom and I with our friends getting ready to go in the helicopter in Antigua

island, something both of us were looking forward to, me especially. I am considering becoming a search and rescue helicopter pilot in Montana, and this would give me my first taste of what it would be like. My dad stayed back on the ship due to motion sickness sitting on a pontoon boat in the lake. Just as we were about to make our way to the helicopter, it started pouring rain. This went on for a duration of about 25 minutes, but thankfully the storm passed, and we were able to take off. The views from the helicopter were incredible, we flew over jagged mountain peaks, pristine untouched beaches, bright blue water and even one of Oprah’s many Caribbean homes. We reached over 140 miles per hour as we passed over a sandbar, a popular haven for stingrays. We even got to see some from the helicopter, it was amazing. After about 45 minutes of airtime, we landed back on solid ground. Back aboard the Viva, we were to go down to deck seven for a mandatory safety briefing. This already happened the first day, however, we were unaware of this, as was most of the ship as it appeared. They conducted a second one for those who missed the first one. It was a total cluster, as over half of the ship’s passengers were squished into one deck of the ship. We never even saw the safety briefing, they just scanned our key cards and told us we were good. This was the only real complaint I had about the ship.

After the safety briefing fiasco, we went to the theatre to play bingo. We played alongside our room neighbors, Shane and Devin, who were from Virginia. Neither of us won, in fact, a little 8-year-old girl won. Mom and I, disgruntled at this point, went up and had dinner before going to Deal or No Deal. The little 8-year-old girl was selected for Deal or No Deal, where she won $2,000. This made my mom and I even more disgruntled, so we got dessert.

Left to Right: Matt, Casey, Andrew, Myself, Kristina, our guide, and Kristina’s dad in Saint Lucia

The next day was spent on the island of St. Lucia, near the town of Castries. Both of my parents were feeling under the weather and decided to stay on the ship. We already had an excursion booked, so I decided to go by myself. I asked Matt and his wife, who were on the same excursion, to be my “parents for the day” since I wasn’t allowed off the ship without a parent or guardian. Even though we had never met prior, they smiled and said yes, and they turned out to be amazing people. Once aboard the speedboat, I made more friends. Casey and Andrew, who were from Flagstaff, Arizona, who I ended up spending most of the trip with. We also became friends with Kristina, who went to the University of Georgia. The four of us quickly bonded and ended up hanging out numerous times the rest of the trip. The speedboat took us over the choppy Caribbean Sea to mud baths, which was an interesting experience. We then went snorkeling momentarily before hopping back aboard the speedboat. I cannot explain this day without mentioning our tour guide. He was originally from a mountain village in St. Lucia and was one of the funniest people I met. Our boat quickly turned into the party boat which was a highlight of the trip.

With black Santa in Barbados

My parents thankfully started feeling better as we docked the next morning in Bridgetown, Barbados. It was the farthest south I had ever been, and we were closer to Africa than California. Dad again stayed on the ship, and my mom and I boarded the truck that would drive us to a monkey reserve. On the way, we drove past Rihanna’s childhood home, Rihanna’s 40-million-dollar mansion she now owns, and another one of Oprah’s vacation houses. Once we arrived at the reserve, we were immediately swarmed by monkeys. It was cool to see them all up close. After getting a picture with a black Santa, we drove along the coast and stopped at one of the beaches. The beach was beautiful but full of trash. Most of the islands were very poverty stricken, especially near the ports and large towns. We flew down the backroads, going through countless mud puddles, and eventually arrived back at port. We got there just a few minutes before the ship was about to leave. In fact, a few people didn’t make it back in time and were left behind in Barbados. That night aboard the ship we ate at one of the specialty dining restaurants, and I hung out with my new friends Casey, Andrew and Kristina.

Me with Ava in St. Maarten

The next morning, we found ourselves in Philipsburg, Sint Maarten. The island of Sint Maarten is shared between the Netherlands and France. Three other cruise ships were also at the port that morning, Royal Caribbean, Mein Schiff (a German cruise line), and of course ours. My mom stayed back, while my dad and I went horseback riding. This was my first time on a horse, astonishingly. I of course made friends quickly. Ethan and Zach were from North Carolina, and you could quickly tell by their accent. They were both my age and we quickly bonded. The three of us were flirting with our guide, who was originally from Greece and our age. This aside, we trekked along the coastline, even walking into the ocean with our horses. Though my horse, Leon, was a little slow, it was a cool experience. After flirting with our guide, Ava, a little more, and joking about the resident pig George, we said our goodbyes. But not before getting a picture with Ava. Back aboard the Viva, I spent some time with my parents, and then went up and played mini golf with Casey and Andrew. Another great end to an amazing day.

Our last full day aboard the Viva was spent in the US Virgin Islands. I somehow convinced my parents to go kayaking, on what was the hottest day of the trip (86*F). All the kayaks were tandem, and I was grouped with an older lady from north Texas. This was her first-time kayaking, and she was actually pretty good at it. We got to our first stop, and after watching hermit crabs race around a circle, we stopped at the world’s most poisonous tree. It is known as the Manchineel Tree, and you cannot touch it, burn it, eat its fruit or be under it during a rainstorm. This is why it is considered the most poisonous tree in the world. After this, we went snorkeling, I got to hold a sea anemone and a conch, and we also got to swim with an octopus. On a slightly darker note, we could see the famed Epstein Island from where we were snorkeling, which was a bit unnerving. Back in the safety of the port, we saw iguanas walking all around as we boarded the Viva for the last time.

Inside the fort at Old San Juan, Puerto Rico

Our trip didn’t end there, as the next day we took a tour around Old San Juan before flying home. Casey, Andrew, and Kristina were also on the tour. We stopped at the old fort and were able to explore the old tunnel system. Seeing the drawing of ships from the prisoners was surreal. We then said our goodbyes, and after a five-hour flight from San Juan we landed in Denver, Colorado. Our flight was delayed three hours leaving Denver. We took advantage of this by getting giant donuts at the airport, and I watched some more episodes of Top Gear. We landed back in San Francisco around one in the morning.

I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to do such a trip. I plan on meeting up with Casey and Andrew again in Utah to go off-roading in the summer. In addition, my next big adventure will be a near 40 day road trip across 10 states, including Colorado, Montana, and South Dakota, as well as three provinces; British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan.

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About the Contributor
Alex Gray, Travel Lead
Alex Gray was born on March 13, 2006, and is currently a senior at Tracy High School. He enjoys taking road trips, ATVing and exploring new places. This past June he spent 42 days driving across six states and two provinces. During this 9,000-mile road trip, Gray encountered over twenty bears, mostly grizzlies, and was fortunate enough to see five wolves in Yellowstone’s Lamar Valley. Wyoming was his favorite state on the trip, with Montana being a close second. He also enjoys doing animal rescue, which his family has been doing his entire life. Gray is a huge basketball fan, and expresses his support for the Minnesota Timberwolves, even after a lackluster season. Alex Gray aspires to be a game warden in Wyoming and plans on going to Oregon State University to reach these goals.  

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