Caribbean Trip Highlights

A shipwreck that the reef has grown into in Roatan, Honduras.

In December, my Nana and I went on a cruise together to the Caribbean and had a really lovely time. Though I’m not really a huge cruising fan as a means of travel, it does give you a very nice, relaxing vacation. I had just submitted all of my grad school documentation, so it was nice to celebrate that as well.

The ship itself was a lot of fun. I’ve never been on Norwegian before, and I really liked that you could go and eat whenever you wanted in the different restaurants instead of being tied to one place at one time. The entertainment on the ship was really good–we watched an entire off-Broadway production of the Million Dollar Quartet on board.

As fun as the ship was, the highlight of any cruise is the ports of call.

We stopped in Honduras, Belize and two cities in Mexico. Out of the four ports, my favorites were Belize and Cozumel.


It was not my first trip to Belize. When I was there with my parents on a cruise as a junior in high school we had an amazing day in Belize City with a wonderful tour guide that we found. This trip was a little bit different because the cruise line has sort of built up this little “town” on an island called Harvest Caye. After buying some rum for my husband, we joined our group and were off (via a ferry to the mainland) to the Mayan ruins and a spice farm.

The spice farm was amazing. We ate fresh cocoa off a tree (the inside is so crazy looking). The fruit is tart and almost gooey and then there are the fresh nibs inside, chalky and bitter. We saw nutmeg growing and vanilla. The vanilla beans they grow take almost a year to reach an end buyer. The flowers bloom only for one day and have to be hand pollinated or they won’t produce a bean. That means in 6 hours their crew of 20 people has to pollinate almost 10 acres of vanilla. It’s really no wonder vanilla is so expensive.

The tour was really fantastic. We got to taste and smell and hold all kinds of spices from allspice (which, despite its misleading name is really one plant that’s native to Belize) to fresh pepper to lemon grass.

The ball court.

The ruins we went to in Belize are not very big (there are much larger ones there), but Nim Li Punit is notable because there are a lot of stele there (carved stones).

Before going, I watched a documentary about how scholars learned to read the Mayan language, and it was really fascinating to watch them try and work backwards. There’s so much artistry in their carvings. The same sound can be represented multiple ways, and each artist would combine symbols and try to create something unique.

I loved archaeology as a kid, and this was my first time visiting any Mayan ruins, so I was pretty excited.


In Cozumel, we went to the Discovery Park, which puts on all kinds of programs and is also an art gallery. There we made our own chocolate, which was so much fun, and we watched the Flyers.


The Papantla Flyers are a small tribe in Mexico, and we were lucky to see them perform their rain ritual. Four men with ropes attached climb to the top of a pole that’s about 30 feet off the ground. They wind themselves around and let themselves fall, upside down and attached at the feet, until they reach the bottom. But the real crazy thing is the fifth man, who climbs to the top with no rope and plays an instrument and dances ON THE TOP of the pole. He stays up there until the end and uses one of the other guys’ ropes to come down, which ends the ritual. You can watch Discover Mexico’s video here.

Our tour guide, Bou, was super knowledgeable about the history of Mexico, and I have to say it was probably the most enjoyable and information-heavy tour I’ve ever been on.

All in all, we had a great time, and I will remember it fondly.


So over to you–have you ever been to the Caribbean (on or off a cruise)? What was your favorite experience there? Let me know in the comments!

Caribbean Vacation Part 2: St Martin/Maarten


St Martin/St Maarten was the second stop on our trip. We booked a short tour of the island and then had planned to spend the rest of the afternoon at the beach. We didn’t make it to the beach in the afternoon, but I’m glad we stopped by one on the tour. St Martin has some of the most beautiful beaches with the softest sand you can find. The water is beautiful and clear. Truly, the island is a small treasure.

A small boutique type hotel on the French side.

St Martin/St Maarten is the smallest island in the world that is shared between two countries. The Dutch side, St Maarten, is the more touristy side of the island, since they opened up for tourism twenty years before the French side. The capital of the Dutch side is Philipsburg, with Front Street providing some of the best shopping on the island. It’s also a place where you can go and sample guavaberry liquor, which is the national beverage. The liquor is slightly sweet, but mostly spicy with hints of cinnamon and clove.

The French side is known for its food. St Martin is known as the culinary capital of the Caribbean, and in Marigot, you can get French pastries as easily as barbecued chicken and fresh fish. We didn’t get to have lunch there unfortunately, but if you’re going you should definitely sample the many delights this country has to offer.


The people of St Maarten are extremely warm and friendly. They are much more easy going than I would be about the fact that at each end of the 13 mile island they use different currency (the French side uses euros, the Dutch side US dollars), have different power systems, and have international cell phone restrictions between the two sides. It’s generally cheaper to physically go and talk to the person on the other side rather than call them. Many people who do business on both sides have two separate cell phone plans.

It’s fairly ludicrous, but the two sides live in relative harmony, and have done so ever since the treaty was drawn up in the 17th century stating that the French and Dutch would share the island. On July 12, 1848, massive uprisings in the large slave population led to the abolishment of slavery.


St Maarten’s biggest industry before the tourism boom of the 1970s was salt. The picture above shows a (dried up) area of brackish water. Places like this would be used to harvest salt, but poor regulations led to the pollution and ultimately the dissolution of the salt industry.


Almost all the goods used every day by the people of St Maarten/Martin are imported. The island is extremely dry and growing food is very difficult. All luxury goods like jewelry and electronics are imported along with cars and gas and food stuffs. A car in St Martin costs about 3,000 dollars more than the same car in the United States because of import fees. The cars I saw the most of on the island were Hyundais and Nissans, which are relatively lower priced and fairly dependable.


It only takes about an hour to drive all the way around the island. While you do so, you’re rewarded with stunning views of the surrounding water and beaches. There’s a beach for almost every mile of coastline, and, in true European fashion, there are many clothing optional beaches and resorts as well.


St Martin is definitely a place to come and enjoy and relax. It’s beautiful and relatively quiet, for all the hustle and bustle of the main towns.


While I definitely enjoyed the tour, the highlight of the day for me was visiting The Yoda Guy on Front Street. It’s a non-profit museum and store dedicated to the work of Nick Haley, who worked on the development of puppets and makeup for 54 movies including Star Wars, Terminator, Superman, MIB, Highlander, and a ton more. He is absurdly talented, and really is the sweetest guy you’ll ever meet. He and his wife run the museum and spend their days talking to young people and encouraging them to follow their dreams. He talked to a young couple about being “normal” and how following what your friends and other people expect you to do was not going to let you grow as a person the same way as following your passions. He was extremely inspiring and very kind. We bought some of his artwork and walked around the museum oohing and aahing over the memorabilia (as we–my Mom, my honorary aunt, Mel, and I are big movie nerds). We were hot and tired, but this museum was like hitting the refresh button and I’m so glad that we made the stop.

Have you ever been to St Martin/Maarten? What did you think of it? What was your favorite thing about this little treasure of an island?

Caribbean Vacation Part 1: San Juan, Puerto Rico

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San Juan was our first stop on my family’s Caribbean cruise. We’d already spent a full day at sea, so we were more than ready to get off the ship and explore. IMG_2703

As we approached the shore, we saw Fort San Felipe del Morro. The fortress, built in the 16th century, is strategically located on a jutting piece of land you have to go around in order to make your way into port. It was from here that the Spanish controlled most of the access in and out of the Caribbean. We didn’t actually visit the fort, but it was an impressive sight nonetheless.

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As we only were allowed a few hours off the boat (we disembarked at 4:30 and had to be back at the ship by 10:00pm), we only had the vaguest of plans, which was to wander around Old Town. We did a little shopping and snapped pictures of the architecture. We tried only to buy things actually made in Puerto Rico, and were impressed by (though we didn’t purchase) some of the beautiful Panama hats that were made there.

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The streets are amazingly colorful and extremely narrow. They combine a beautiful European style with bright  Caribbean colors.

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We met quite a few pigeons outside a 16th century Catholic sanctuary near the old walls. They cooed and strutted contentedly on the blue cobblestones that line many of the streets.

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The boys weren’t interested in asking anyone to guide us in our walk, so our steps stayed fairly uninformed. We ended up eating at a local restaurant that was okay, but I know much better food can be had in Puerto Rico. I’m the history nut of the group, so I missed having someone or something inform me of what I was seeing. But the place is beautiful with a rich tradition and culture that I would love to go back and experience more deeply. We only got a glimpse, but it was an intriguing beginning to our journey.

Have you ever been to Puerto Rico? What were the most interesting places, people, or food you encountered? Any place we shouldn’t miss for our next visit?

50th Anniversary Cruise

Toasting at their wedding in 1965, my grandparents Irene and Mike.

I’ve been doing a lot of work for a very special project, which I thought I’d share with you.

On August 22, my grandparents will have been married for 50 years. To celebrate, they’re taking the family on a cruise to the Caribbean where they will renew their vows and celebrate being together.

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For the trip I have designed t-shirts (to be unveiled after the trip, as they haven’t come back from the screen printer just yet), invitations, door markers (because if you’ve ever been on a cruise you know that all the doors look the same), music playlists, and a smattering of other projects I’ll show you later.

Before the trip, I thought I’d share some of my packing tips and, the question foremost in any reader’s mind, how to choose the best vacation reads. After the trip, I’ll share stories and pictures as well as my top 5 must see/do in this part of the Caribbean (we’re visiting Puerto Rico, St. Martin/Maarten, and St. Kitts).

The door markers with first initials–they’ll be laminated so nothing happens to them, and then they’ll go on everyone’s cabin door.

The font I’m sharing was created just for this occasion (though it is now available on the Etsy shop), and it is one of my absolute favorites. I’ve called it ‘Rapunzel’ for all it’s little curlicues like the curls you get in your hair, but what makes this font so perfect for my grandparents is its traditional mixed with modern elements and its whimsy.

My grandparents set a great example for other couples with their dedication to laughter and communication, and I’m so honored to be a part of this very special celebration for them.

You can find the playlist I created for their vow renewal on Spotify–a short mix of danceable oldies from the 60s and 70s.