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Sailing the Caribbean With Silver Spirit - A Visit to St. LuciaDecember 12, 2011 By: Susan Young
|Silver Spirit is docked adjacent to the port's shopping area at Castries, St. Lucia// All photos by Susan J. Young|
Cruisers have come to recognize St. Lucia in the Windward Islands as the home of the Pitons, distinctive twin peaks in the island’s southern region, not far from Soufriere. The peaks soar nearly a half mile high from the island floor.
St. Lucia itself has a European flair with both English and French heritage. Before 1814, the island was a bit of a ping pong ball; it bounced back and forth 14 times between English and French rule. England finally established possession in 1814. And, in 1979 St. Lucia became an independent state within the British Commonwealth of Nations.
|Rainforest Aerial Tram uses a "gondola-like" open-air vehicle that seats eight guests.|
Exploring St. Lucia
From the port at Castries, St. Lucia’s capital city, cruisers often head south to the Pitons area for snorkeling, beach play, a drive-in volcano experience, sulphur springs, a historical plantation tour, hiking or luxury resort activities.
But, on our November voyage of Silversea Cruises’ Silver Spirit, we opted to explore the opposite side of St. Lucia. So we headed north by mini-coach for a 30-minute journey into the mountains for Silversea’s “Aerial Tram Adventure” shore excursion, operated by Rainforest Adventures.
Upon arrival, we had a few moments to use the restrooms and walk up a long grade to the point where guests boarded the “gondola-style” trams for an aerial ride through the rainforest.
While the brochure said this excursion was wheelchair accessible, it was a fairly steep grade to reach the point where guests boarded the trams. One of the Rainforest Adventure staffers took over pushing my mother’s transport chair, thank goodness.
In addition, she needed to get in and out of the vehicle herself to board the tram, so I’m not sure what arrangements they may have had or not, for those unable to do so.
Under a covered pavilion, guests sit and wait for the next gondola-style tram to arrive. When it’s time, the guides line up eight guests at a time at the boarding spot.
Interestingly, unlike some theme parks where you keep walking to board a moving ride, this tram stops to allow each group of guests to board. So if you’re already traveling on a tram vehicle further up the mountain, your vehicle will stop.
Riders just sit quietly in the midst of lush scenery. It’s fun to listen to the jungle sounds and view the flora up close until the tram starts moving again. The guide continues to point out different highlights of the flora.
The tram vehicles also are spaced out nicely, so riders feel part of the jungle rather than just one in a line of trams. And while this was a bit like a ski lift, it was much more.
|The Rainforest Adventure Aerial Tram takes guests up close to tropical foliage on the trip up the mountain|
Guests on this tour don’t just float above the rainforest, they glide through it at heights of 80 to 100 feet. Leaves and branches, at times, brush along the sides of the tram vehicle.
Each tram vehicle carries one naturalist guide. Ours made the rainforest seemingly come alive, as she pointed out a crab walking up the rockface of a tiny waterfall below, a blue hummingbird in the trees, and a plethora of trees and flowering plants.
We viewed everything from ferns to breadfruit trees, from eucalyptus trees to flowering vines. The guide’s commentary continued from start to finish, but also our guide provided moments of silence so everyone could just soak in the sounds of nature.
The gondolas are open-air, so it’s a good idea if taking this tour to bring along a tiny, plastic fold-up poncho. The entire journey up and down the mountain takes one hour and 10 minutes and, if it starts to rain, well, you will get wet.
There is no roof on the vehicle – so riders have maximum exposure to the lush vegetation and panoramic views of the island and its scenery.
It’s a magnificent ride – one of our favorite shore trips on our nine-night Silversea cruise between Fort Lauderdale and Barbados. The trams glide silently up the mountain under the treetop canopy.
|Tram guests get a bird's eye view of the rainforest|
When the tram reaches the top of the mountain, it then circles around and returns the same way down the mountain but at an even higher elevation.
As a result, the vehicles below aren’t really visible – again adding to the feeling of being one with the rainforest. The trams rise above the forest canopy at points, so cruisers are able to look out to the ocean, the mountains and the villages dotting the countryside.
I felt as though I’d taken two separate journeys. Yet, it was just a simple roundtrip up and down the mountain.
From the knotted and twisted woody vines to the lavender stars, orange bursts and yellow berries of fragrant floral trees, there was something to view at all times throughout the ride.
At times we’d glimpse a hiker walking along the rainforest’s floor or someone taking the zip line adventure through the forest. The adult riders were fascinated -- never becoming bored by the forest scenes. That said, attention-wise, I personally wouldn’t recommend this excursion for those with small children.
At the end of the ride, guests receive a coupon for a free rum punch. Of all the tours that offered such a libation, this one had the most tasty one. Guests can relax with their drink on a back patio.
The adjacent Amazonas gift shop has souvenirs, rum cakes, jewelry and coconut coffee (roasted in Trinidad). Guests can buy a photo of themselves taken on the tram but it was pricey.
The tram trip is entirely non-smoking. Bug spray is highly recommended, as when the tram stopped, the mosquitoes descended on a few guests on our tram (including me).
|View to the forest floor and one of the zip lines below|
After the tram ride concludes, guess who so desire may take a short walk in the rainforest, provided they have closed-toed shoes; no flip flops or high heels are permitted.
Adventuresome clients who are physically fit might alternatively book Silversea’s combination zip line and aerial tram adventure, which is priced at $109 per person.
Guests are given all the necessary zip line gear and instruction, before they hike 30 minutes into the rainforest to reach the first of 10 zip line platforms. After completing the zip line course, then guests hike to the top of the mountain and catch the aerial tram for the return trip to the starting point.
More Silversea Options
Other Silversea shore options on this day included “Best of St. Lucia” for $169 per person, which is essentially a full-day tour to Ladera Resort, near Soufriere.
Guests enjoy a welcome cocktail, and a tour of the highly rated property before lunch with wine at Dasheene Restaurant, an open-air venue with spectacular views of the Pitons.
After lunch, guests hop on a mini-bus for a trip to Soufriere, where they then board a catamaran for a scenic voyage back to Castries. Rum punch, beer, soda and water are served onboard.
The boat stops at a pristine swimming spot and then sails around Marigot Bay before returning to the ship.
|Silver Spirit is docked at the harbor of Castries; another ship is visible across the harbor.|
Some of our fellow Silversea guests booked Heli-Flightseeing of the South Island for $169 per person, a scenic half-day St. Lucia tour for $39 per person or St Lucia by Segway for $109 per person.
The line also offers two upscale Silver Collection options -- a Ti Kaye Village Retreat for $349 per person and a “Day at the Landings” outing for $249 per person. Both feature pampering experiences at top-rated resorts.
For shopaholics, Philip, the ship’s “preferred shopping partner” – who traveled onboard the ship from island to island -- was available to assist guests with their specific shopping goals in port.
We saw him walking through the pier shopping area as we returned to the ship. He was headed out to meet another guest.
The shopping area adjacent to the Castries pier is a great spot for cruisers to stroll and browse – within the confines of the secure port area -- to find souvenirs, jewelry, handicrafts, artwork and clothing.
|Guests relax on an exterior deck of Silver Spirit|
Onboard Silver Spirit
Many guests who stayed onboard Silver Spirit rather than booking a shore trip told us they enjoyed a morning or early afternoon spa treatment.
On this port day, the ship offered guests a men’s spa special. It included scalp massage therapy, a men’s haircut, and a deep cleansing grooming treatment with shave. Cost for this 90-minute treatment was $119 per person.
Bingo, bridge, chess, table tennis, team trivia, Pilates and golf putting were among the onboard activities during this afternoon on Silver Spirit.
We returned mid-day and headed for the pool bar, where we enjoyed a fresh pizza to order. This was a low-key, easygoing venue with tables along either side of the pool. Waiters circulated taking orders, and servers brought drinks.
The food was consistently good here, and it was a cut above typical pool food fare. We ordered a fresh, made-to-order pizza with tomatoes, cheese and fresh basil.
At night, the pool grill transforms into The Grill, featuring “hot rock” dining under the stars. It’s an interactive cooking concept. Guests grill their own seafood and meat directly at their table on a heated volcanic rock plate.
Tonight, however, many guests choose to dine at Seishin, the line’s alternative dining restaurant that specializes in Asian fushion with saki pairings. The name is Japanese for “spirit.”
Cost is $40 per person for either a la carte or a nine-course degustation tasting menu. This intimate dining venue is trendy and we noticed that it appealed to many younger couples onboard. Guests enjoy hors d’ouevres of sushi and caviar from an iced table where the chef sculpts sushi and sashimi.
One nine-course set selection on our cruise included Amuse Bouche (the restaurant’s signature caviar sorbet); assorted sushi with traditional condiments; red snapper shahimi with prune jam; marinated clams on pink Jurassic seasalt; flying fish roe with a moist green asparagus flan; crispy grilled fish with pistachio butter; royal crab with mango tartare; and grilled Wagyu beef with Wasabi.
As this was a Sunday, an early-evening interdenominational prayer service was hosted by fellow guests. Elsewhere, the Silver Spirit Trio played dance music, pianist Perry offered easy listening favorites, and, at 9:45 p.m., the big screen movie was “Captain America: The First Avenger.”
Cruise Director Susan and a panel of so-called liars put on a “Liars’ Club” performance. While Silversea doesn’t boast a rousing nightlife, it delivers low-key comedy or cabaret-style musical performances.
On this night Disco DJ started playing hits at 11 p.m. in Panorama Lounge, and the Silver Spirit Trio was back with smooth music in The Bar at 11:30 p.m.
After a day floating through the rainforest, though, we headed for our suite. Our beds were turned down and chocolates awaited. Our suite’s mini-refrigerator had been re-stocked with our favorite complimentary beverages and our bathroom was spotlessly clean with fresh, thirsty towels and bath robes replenished for the next day’s use.
At 11 p.m., Silver Spirit sailed for our next port of call within St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Stay tuned to www.travelagentcentral.com for our next installment, next Monday.