Blowes Travel & Cruise Centres Inc.'s Blog

Great memories and stories are wonderful mementos of your Caribbean vacation, even photos to share with your friends. Even better if you can share those memories at home along with some flavor of the islands.  Here are some tips to help you shop.

Rum

Where to buy: Barbados, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Cayman Islands and more

If the taste of the tropics for you is a rum cocktail, you won't want to miss a tasting in the islands, and the opportunity to bring home a bottle you might not be able to find at home. 

Many, many islands grow their own sugar cane and produce their own brands of rum, each claiming subtle variations in flavor, color and strength as a result of local growing conditions, production, and ageing techniques.   Tradition holds that the first rum in the islands was produced in Barbados, so if you're a purist planning a rum odyssey, put a rum tour of Barbados on your bucket list.

Another rum experience not to be missed is the tasting tour of the world's largest, family-owned producer of spirits, Bacardi, in Puerto Rico.   Watch our BestTrip.TV video, above, where we meet the head of the Bacardi family today, and learn how to make a classic rum cocktail.

Or put on your scuba gear to discover the one place in the world it might be ok to 'drink and dive' (not really).  Seven Fathoms Rum, a distiller in the Cayman Islands ages its rum in casks in a secret location underwater off the coast – at exactly seven fathoms deep - where they say there are perfect, consistent ageing temperatures for out of this world rum.  But you'll have to taste it to decide.

Coffee

Where to buy: Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Haiti.

If the best part of your day is your first cup of coffee, you won't want to miss the local coffee on some of your favorite Caribbean islands.

Jamaica's Blue Mountain coffee is the best known Caribbean coffee, with a history dating back hundreds of years, and an ideal climate on the steep, shaded slopes of the country's Blue Mountains at elevations between 1500 and 5000 feet.  Slow-ripening in the shade, picked by hand on the steep, treed slopes, Blue Mountain coffee isn't cheap.  But it's considered one of the world's most premium coffee varieties, its name protected by government regulation like wine regions are protected elsewhere. Many plantations keep their operations private, but a few offer tours and tastings.  Plus you'll enjoy the cool air high in the mountains, in contrast to the heat on the beaches.

Extend your Blue Mountain coffee drinking well into the evening with a sip of Tia Maria liqueur, made from Blue Mountain coffee.  

Coffee Plantation in Puerto Rico. Photo Credit

There are other coffee producing islands, too. Puerto Rico is a leading world producer of coffee, especially in the South-Western mountains. And both countries on the island of Hispaniola: the Dominican Republic and Haiti, also produce their own uniquely-flavored coffees.  In the Dominican Republic, most coffee growing takes place in the mountainous region above Jarabacoa.  While Haiti is a less-developed tourist destination, visitors to Royal Caribbean's port of call at its Labadee resort can support local co-op coffee growers by purchasing local coffee on your cruise.

Cigars

Where to buy: Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Barbados

There's no better way to make a relaxing vacation linger than a souvenir box of cigars.  It's been said the real luxury of cigars is not so much the cost of even the priciest cohiba.  It's the time it takes to properly, leisurely smoke a lengthy cigar.  In a world where time is increasingly money, investing the time to smoke a cigar may be the ultimate luxury.

The image of sultry young women rolling cigars on their thighs in days of yore in Cuba is still a part of the mystique of cigar culture.  When Cuba became cut off from the rest of the world, other Caribbean producers had their chance to shine. 

Cigar tobacco field in Cuba. Photo Credit

Aficionados consider cigars to be like fine wine: each tobacco region has its own 'terroir'.  In cigar 'tasting's, you are introduced to the subtleties contributed by the unique soil, minerals, light and variety to the unique flavor of cigars from different Caribbean islands.

You can tour tobacco plantations and cigar factories (where, advance warning, attractive young women do NOT roll cigars on their thighs) in rural areas of the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Barbados and yes, still Cuba.

Start your Trip!

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Maybe it's your first sight of a palm tree in the sea breeze. Or the feel of sand between your toes. Even your first tropical cocktail in the warmth of the sun. But for some people, it's the taste of any of these iconic flavors that makes you feel like you're finally on vacation in the Caribbean. read more

There's everyday luxury on Regent Seven Seas Cruises: where your airfare, transfers, on board wine and spirits, tips, specialty dining and even shore excursions and wifi are all included in a relaxed country club atmosphere on beautiful mid-sized ships. 

Then there's another level of all-inclusive luxury on Regent: the butler suites.

BestTrip.TV got a behind-the-scenes experience of Regent's most spectacular suite, the 'most luxurious address at sea', and a glimpse into the life of the butlers who make the suite life on Regent's all-inclusive luxury ships even sweeter.

We even get an answer to the question: What do butlers do in their spare time (if they even have any)?

Start your Trip!

 

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You'll notice we aren't using a photo for this story. That's because there's not much good to see. Hurricane Irma is possibly the most destructive natural event ever to strike certain parts of the Caribbean.

What about Travel?

Information is trickling in, but here's the best available information we have today from 3rd party sources about the situation:

  • Tourists are barred indefinitely from the Florida Keys although they have begun to let residents back in.
  • South Florida's airports are operating although they are working back up to full service.
  • Cruises from Port Canaveral, Fort Lauderdale and Miami are resuming this week – but most with modified and/ or abbreviated itineraries.
  • The islands worst hit include Barbuda (where the entire island's population has now been evacuated to sister Antigua), St. Maarten/ St. Martin, parts of Cuba, St. Thomas, Turks and Caicos, Anguilla, St. Barth's, and the damage in some is overwhelming.St. Maarten and St. Thomas in particular are among the most popular cruise ports in the Eastern Caribbean.It's unknown at this point when any cruise or other tourists may be able to visit.
  • Some cruise lines are canceling Eastern Caribbean itineraries and changing them to Western – or even Southern Caribbean – itineraries for the next few weeks.

Good News

Already, though, there is some good news we want to share, as rays of hope during this terrible time:

  • We have been so heartened by how many cruise lines – in astonishing feats of logistics – quickly re-routed and dedicated ships to transporting people away from danger and hazardous conditions and bringing vital supplies and assistance to communities affected.
  • Similarly, airlines and charter companies made heroic evacuations before the hurricane made landfall, and some have returned with assistance where they can land.
  • We are even starting to see 'assistance tourism' – people choosing to take their holidays in devastated areas to contribute to local economies and help clean up and get communities back to functioning.
  • And even in affected areas, not all hotels, resorts and activities have been destroyed.Some are still functioning or will be soon.

Just a few examples:

  • Our friends at St. Maarten's 12- metre Challenge racing yacht experience report they'll be back in business by December.The heavily damaged airport has restored enough service to land flights with needed supplies and assistance.
  • So, too, Sandals says its Beaches Turks and Caicos property will be restored and 'better than ever' before Christmas.For booked travelers, they offer to"re-accommodate your stay at one of our Beaches Resorts located in Jamaica or to any available Sandals Resort, or reschedule your travel dates for Beaches Turks & Caicos"
  • St. Barth's airport re-opened Thursday morning.

What Can You Do?

The affected areas are facing estimated lost tourism revenues this year in the billions. And in the worst-affected locations where tourism is the largest or only industry, almost all jobs are gone indefinitely until tourists return.

Our hearts go out to everyone affected by Hurricane Irma. And we hope you join us in supporting recovery efforts.

One of the best ways to support recovery in the region is to continue to travel. High season from December to March is vital for the economies of tourism-dependent Caribbean countries.

If you have booked travel plans, check with us or the travel supplier to see if you can complete those plans. The Caribbean Tourism Organization and the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association are other excellent sources of information.

And if you are thinking of a sun or beach vacation, let us help you book a trip to the Caribbean. There are many places unaffected or that will be ready by December to provide you with a memorable holiday that also helps economies recover from Hurricane Irma.

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Do You Know Your ABCs? Islands, that is.

They're as far south as you can go in the Caribbean Sea. A stone's throw north of Venezuela, the 'ABC' Islands are blessed with a location outside the Caribbean's hurricane zone… and on the radar of travelers in the know.

Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao were part of what was formerly known as the Netherlands Antilles, and they are still part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Colorful Dutch colonial and West Indies heritage, unique climates, landscapes and ecosystems much different from the rest of the Caribbean, and that slightly more remote location, make the ABC Islands a haven for travelers looking for a new kind of island experience.

ARUBA

The closest of the ABC islands to Venezuela, only 15 miles off its coast, Aruba is still only a 2½ hour flight from Miami, and has the most standard 'Caribbean' tourist development.

But instead of the tropical humidity and frequent rain you associate with the Caribbean, Aruba's climate is a dessert-like dream: dry, sunny, and breezy with constant trade winds crossing the flat surface of the island.

Photo Credit

The western and southern coasts are known for their white, sandy beaches, ideal locations for the majority of the island's hotels and resorts. Palm Beach, Eagle Beach, and nearby capital of Oranjestad are home to the island's international restaurants, shopping, casinos, golf and other international travel amenities.

Photo Credit

But make sure to get off Aruba's beaten track. The famous trade winds shape one of the most famous symbols of Aruba: the divi divi tree, bent into fantastical, bonsai shapes.

The arid landscape is also dotted with cactus and aloe vera plants; a tour in Arikok National Park, which covers nearly 1/5th of the island, is a great way to see this unusual Caribbean landscape, as well as caves and archeological remains of original inhabitants, and the dramatic rocky eastern coast of the island.

Photo Credit

Don't miss San/Sint Nicolaas, and up-and-coming 'second city' for all that is young, hip and artistic in Aruba. Public murals painted by artists from around the world, an early fall art festival, and trendy hipster bar and restaurant scene make it worth your while to explore farther afield from the capital.

BONAIRE

The smallest of the ABC Islands, Bonaire is essentially a coral reef pushed out of the sea and surrounded by one of the world's most celebrated coral reef systems. The reefs start from the very shoreline and have made Bonaire a bucket list destination for divers who considered it one of, if not the very best shore diving destinations in the world.

Photo Credit

Bonaire has led the Caribbean in nature conservation and eco-tourism. The entire coastline, from the high-water mark on land to a depth of 200 feet offshore, was designated a marine sanctuary in 1979. It protects the 350 species of fish, 60 species of coral and 4 species of sea turtle in its reefs.

Bonaire's shoreline is dotted with lagoons and inlets that are home to marine birds including one of only four nesting grounds of Caribbean flamingos. Outside of that highly protected area, mangrove forests are popular kayaking and snorkeling destinations for hotel guests and passengers in port from cruise ships.

Photo Credit

Nearby Lac Bay on the windward side of the island is on the map of the world's top wind surfers. With reef protecting the entrance to the bay and consistent trade winds, it's one of the stops of the PWA Windsurfing Freestyle World Cup. In fact, the island's most famous export might be its windsurfers; half of the world's highest-ranked freestyle windsurfers are from Bonaire. So if you have been meaning to take up the sport, this is the place to find both ideal conditions and expert instruction.

In the southern part of the island, Bonaire's unique topography has salt water flowing over low lands, enabling the island to commercially produce salt by evaporating seawater. One of the more unique – and delicious - souvenirs you can find in the Caribbean.

CURACAO

Larger than Aruba or Bonaire, Curacao is also a more commercial center with financial and oil-refining business. It's a popular cruise port and has direct flights from cities on the Eastern seaboard as well as Miami and the Netherlands.

Photo Credit

The capital Willemstad dates from the first half of the 1600's. Its collection of well-preserved Dutch colonial architecture, cotton-candy and lacy versions of design typical of Netherlands in the 17th century, is the best example of the style in the Dutch Caribbean and has earned UNESCO World Heritage status.

Photo Credit

In addition to the marvelous pastel-perfect streetscape, the Dutch built forts in the 1600's to protect themselves in the age of piracy and European marine warfare. Six can still be seen today; preserved historic sites, or transformed into hotels, casinos, and even plazas.

The island also has a thrilling geological feature for avid scuba divers: the 'Blue Edge', where the sea shelf drops sharply off only 200 feet from shore.

Photo Credit

Also famously blue, and possibly more famous than the island itself, is its world-famous namesake liqueur. Curacao is the famously peacock blue liqueur that's also a top souvenir of any trip to the island. It's distilled from the island's Laraha fruit, a bitter orange that is the failed result of very early Spanish settlers' attempts to raise Valencia oranges in the dry, poor soil. Although its fruit is almost inedible, the peel is powerfully aromatic. And that trademark blue? It's always just been added color.

With their extraordinary terrain, climate, heritage and lifestyle, the ABC Islands should be on any traveler's list of top Caribbean destinations.

Start your Trip!

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Time To Get Back to the Caribbean! Escape To One of These Unique Beaches

You don't really want to try to tough out this tough winter without a beach escape.  And luckily, it's not too late to book a break from winter weather.

After the destruction of recent hurricanes, communities have pulled together, and many beach destinations are ready to welcome travelers again. Booking a cruise or a land trip and supporting the local economy is one of the best ways you can help affected destinations that rely on tourism to continue to recover.

And even if your favorite winter beach isn't quite ready for visitors again, that's a great motivation to discover a new beach this year.  Here are some of our favorite under-the-radar beaches to try in your quest for sun and sand this winter.

1. Crane Beach, Barbados

Crane Beach was originally a harbor, is considered one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, with its dramatic cliffs and surrounding vegetation. If you think 'Crane' beach means it's best for birdwatchers, you're wrong: it refers to the large crane that once sat on the top of the cliff loading and unloading ships in the harbor. The waves in this area make the Crane beach a great spot for body surfing and boogie boarding, and the famous hotel (said to be the oldest in the islands) perching above the beach is a gem of Caribbean hospitality. (Photo Credit)

2. Trunk Bay, St. John, US Virgin Islands

This white sand beach has been a showpiece of the US National Park Service since it was donated by a Rockefeller family member to the Virgin Islands National Park. A one-of-a-kind, 650-foot underwater snorkeling trail provides terrific viewing of colorful fish and corals, including the rare, indigo-blue tunicates – in less than 20′ of water, perfect for every member of the family.

3. Eagle Beach, Aruba

Aruba is as far south as you can go in the Caribbean before you hit South America, and its uniquely dry, sunny, almost dessert-like environment, so different from elsewhere in the Caribbean, is worth a few more minutes in the air. Wide and white, Eagle Beach (above photo credit)  is home to two of the most photographed and renowned divi divi trees in Aruba (pictured top, credit) with their trademark silhouette shaped by the constant, refreshing trade winds. Low rise resorts line the beach, which is also a famous turtle nesting and hatching site.

4. Mosquito Bioluminscent Bay, Puerto Rico

This might be the only beach in the Caribbean best seen at night! Tiny micro-organisms, up to 160,000 of them in every liter of water - give off a supernatural, blue-white glow year round. It's the most luminous bioluminescent display in the world - and makes this the beach experience on Puerto Rico's Vieques island unforgettable!  Hurricane Maria wreaked havoc on the island, interrupting the bioluminescent bay's ecosystem.  For weeks after the hurricanes, the bay was dark. But happily, the water is starting to glow again as the water chemistry recovers.  Don't miss the opportunity for the nighttime kayak of a lifetime.

5. Horseshoe Bay, Bermuda

This is the most famous beach in Bermuda, and one of the top-rated in the world. A very popular tourist spot, it lies on the main island's south (Atlantic) coast, shaped in, you guessed it, a horseshoe. Fringed by limestone rocks, the pink sand and turquoise water are mirrored by the British Caribbean island's pastel architecture.  (Photo Credit)

Don't miss an island escape from the winter weather. Discover a new favorite beach in the Caribbean.

Start your Trip!

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