Caribbean Cruise Excursion Tips: Panama, St. Kitts, Dominica, Mexico

Caribbean Cruise Excursion Tips: Panama, St. Kitts, Dominica, Mexico

How to Select Cruise Excursions to Have More Fun and Save Some Money!

By Jeannette and Dan Dudek

Independent Tours

Panama
Instead of taking the ship’s excursion to the Gatun Lock in the Panama Canal, we opted to do the trip by cab. We negotiated a fixed rate with the driver, one that would include a short sightseeing drive through the city where we were docked.

For about ½ the cost of the ship’s excursion price, we got to spend as much time at the lock as we desired. In addition, when I questioned our driver about the new canal that was being constructed, he drove us to a great lookout spot to see a section of this enormous dig!

Our independent approach cost less, we saw more, and it took us less time than the ship’s excursion.

Caribbean Cruise Excursion Tips: Panama, St. Kitts, Dominica, Mexico

Caribbean Cruise Excursion Tips: Panama, St. Kitts, Dominica, Mexico

Independent Taxi Excursion to Gatun Lock in the Panama Canal

Independent Taxi Excursion to Gatun Lock in the Panama Canal

St. Kitts
One alternative we really like involves finding an open bus tour operated by a local. For example, on the island of St. Kitts we loved the tour provided by Big Banana Safari Tours. Michael Bridgewater is the Taxi/Tour Operator and he can be reached at: michaelbigbanana@yahoo.com.

St. Kitts Independent Cruise Excursion with Big Banana Safari Tours

St. Kitts Independent Cruise Excursion with Big Banana Safari Tours

St. Kitts - old sugar plantation powered by water

St. Kitts – old sugar plantation powered by water

The Big Banana Safari tour included a two hour tour of St. Kitts that allowed us to visit a number of interesting and historic sites, including the remains of an old sugar mill that was powered by water; early native lava rock markings; a demonstration where they use liquid rubber on cloth to make fascinating designs; and a view of the resort area of the island.

St. Kitts - lava rock with ritual symbols

St. Kitts – lava rock with ritual symbols

St. Kitts - painting with liquid rubber

St. Kitts – painting with liquid rubber

One of the best features of this tour was Big Banana provided complimentary Rum Punch, Rum & Coke and soft drinks at the various stops! This tour was a real bargain (even without the free drinks)! Note: several tour options are available.

Our Big Banana Safari guide is pouring Rum & Coke for a guest with a camera that is standing near-by!

Our Big Banana Safari guide is pouring Rum & Coke for a guest with a camera that is standing near-by!

Dominica
Lion Tours offers a similar tour on an open bus on the island of Dominica. They provided an excellent tour of the island for about ½ the cost of a similar cruise line offered tour; even after paying an additional $5 fee to take the government maintained trail to the Trafalgar Falls.

Lion Tours in Dominica

Lion Tours in Dominica

Our driver, Bevan Paris, provided details about the island, its history, industry, culture and other interesting facts throughout our tour – and did so very amusingly, making the time spent on the tour very enjoyable.

For example, he explained that the 29 mile long island of Dominica has low hanging clouds, thus high humidity – which creates an excellent environment for many types of flowers, fruits and vegetation in general. During our drive to the Government controlled, 40 area Botanical Gardens, Bevan stopped a few times to let us take pictures of the various plants, and occasionally picked one to show and explain to us in detail. Bevan picked a ginger flower so we all could experience the strong and pleasant aroma of this plant. He also explained how the wild bamboo (which grows 1 to 5 inches a day) helps keep the soil from eroding the steeper slopes of the island.

Hot Mud Pool in Dominica

Hot Mud Pool in Dominica

Other interesting facts Bevan told us about Dominica included: gas is $7.50 a gallon; cricket is the national sport; the parrot is the national bird; 71,000 people live on the island (most of them are Catholic); plantations are owned by individual families, and they combine their harvest to sell as a collective to a cargo ship that arrives every two weeks; there are no poisonous snakes on the island (they do have boa constrictors, but they only give you a friendly “welcoming hug”).

Besides fruit, exports include Café Dominica — a great tasting coffee made by picking the cocoa pods when they turn yellow, washing them carefully, laying them in the sun to completely dry, then the pods are roasted, peeled and ground.

Trafalgar Falls in Dominica

Trafalgar Falls in Dominica

We made a stop to visit an area with natural hot water, hot mud pools and hot lava rocks. A local greeted us and explained the environmental conditions that produce this interesting geothermal region. The highlight of the tour required a bit of a hike to Trafalgar Falls. The government maintains the trail (i.e. we each had to pay an additional $5 to walk to the falls).

Cruise Ship Shore Excursions
The above does not mean we do not take excursions offered by the ship; we take a number of them on each voyage. However we do our research, know what excursions the ship offers, how much they cost, and the duration of each. With our “short list” printed out in our Summary Cruise Notes document; we refer to it when talking to experienced passengers (and our dinner waiter), make notes, and then decide if we should make a reservation for a ship sponsored excursion, or do the independent travel approach. One example of a ship sponsored excursion we really enjoyed was one provided by Celebrity Cruises to the Tulum Mayan Ruins, near Cozumel, Mexico (below).

Mexico

Tulum Mayan Ruins, near Cozumel, Mexico

Tulum Mayan Ruins, near Cozumel, Mexico

As travel writers we do detailed research of the shore excursions we want to consider and possibly cover in our travel articles. We start a few months before our cruise checking ship offered excursions, and the reviews of others. We evaluate all the possible excursions for our ports, and then Copy & Paste the details of the excursions of interest into a MS Word document. For a typical cruise, we might have two to four possible excursions for each day in a port; this is our Short List. Once onboard the ship, we talk to passengers and crew to give us first-hand knowledge as to the best excursions. We suggest you consider doing the same.

Note: Dan was hosted on tours provided by Big Banana Safari Tours and Lion Tours.

Bio:
Jeannette and Dan Dudek travel extensively domestically and internationally; visited 34 countries; and have been to most U.S. states and Canadian provinces.

 

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