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Sailing the Caribbean With Silversea's Silver Spirit: Exploring GrenadaJanuary 8, 2012 By: Susan Young
|Silver Spirit is docked at the Melville Street Cruise Terminal in downtown St. George’s, Grenada// All photos by Susan J. Young|
With lush tropical vegetation, Grenada is the second largest producer of nutmeg in the world, following Indonesia. Local residents also cultivate and produce cinnamon, tumeric (known locally as saffron), ginger, pepper, vanilla, mace and bay leaves.
Positioned at the far southern tip of the Windward Islands chain, Grenada and neighboring Carriacou and Petite Martinique comprise one independent state within the British Commonwealth. The islands are only 100 miles north of the South American mainland.
Grenada is a off-the-beaten path for most cruise ships sailing from U.S. home ports during the winter season. But it does attract niche lines as well as such upscale ships as Silver Spirit on southern Caribbean itineraries.
Silver Spirit docked at the Melville Street Cruise Terminal in downtown St. George’s, Grenada, early in the morning. I headed out about 7:15 a.m. for Silversea's full-day “Around the Island of Spice” tour priced at $109 per person.
Given the eight-hour tour, entry to various attractions, savory lunch at the Belmont Estate and expert commentary and interesting sites visited, I felt this specific shore trip was a bargain, compared with many others I’ve taken on other lines.
As our coach motored out of St. George’s we perused the historic Georgian structures of this 300-year-old bustling town. But soon we were out in the countryside, watching small groups of men seated on porches, at bars and just along the roadside at points.
“They’re ‘limers’ who are ‘liming,’ our guide explained with a smile and a warm chuckle. Given the island's low-key island lifestyle and current level of unemployment, he explained that liming means just hanging out and chatting, playing cards or board games and enjoying refreshments (often rum).
|Gouyave Nutmeg Processing Station, one of Grenada’s largest nutmeg processing factories.|
Driving north of St. George’s we began to see nutmeg trees along the highway. While sugarcane was initially grown in Grenada, nutmeg trees became the stars of Colonial-era agriculture and that's the case today as well.
Many Caribbean islands view tourism as their number one economic engine, and while tourism is important to the locals, Grenada still puts agriculture first.
Nutmeg tree fruit is a bit like an apricot. But nutmeg isn’t a nut, it's actually within the pods gathered from the nutmeg tree fruit.
Our guide explained that nutmeg has multiple uses. Its fruit can be made into jam and even a syrup that adds a distinctive taste to Grenadian rum punch.
It's also highly flavorful as a spice; Rachel Ray frequently tells her television viewers her mom uses nutmeg in just about everything to add a savory taste. In addition, nutmeg can be used as an essential oil that’s an arthritic aide.
|The Dougaldston Spice Estate, just south of Gouyave, houses a historic plantation that showcases the old processes for growing and preparing spices.|
To learn more about nutmeg and the island's other spices, our motorcoach's first stop was the Dougaldston Spice Estate, just south of Gouyave along Grenada’s western coast.
The estate has several historic plantation production buildings that are reminders of the island’s past.
Tourists go to stations inside one building; each guide has his or her own station and the groups gather around to view fresh fruits and spices and hear about the production processes of the past.
Next, cruisers take a bit of a walkabout outside. The guide pointed out various types of trees. And, we viewed a humongous old-time scale; a truck would simply drive in to weigh the agricultural output.
|A friendly Grenada policeman was happy to pose for us at the Dougaldston Spice Estate.|
On the estate grounds, I encountered a local policeman who was very gracious and, after I asked, he allowed me to snap his photo. He looked so proud in his uniform.
Interestingly, the estate grounds and surrounding area are still the top spots in Grenada where most of the island’s spices are grown and receive primary processing. Only the final processing steps have been moved elsewhere.
Then we were soon off by coach to one of the Gouyave Nutmeg Processing Stations, currently one of Grenada’s largest nutmeg processing factories.
We strolled through the aging factory to watch the workers up close as they sorted and graded the nutmeg.
Other workers drove forklifts carrying palettes with large burlap bags of packaged nutmeg to the entrance of the facility where trucks were waiting to take the bags off to market.
This isn't modern industrial processing. Nutmeg factory workers sat on stools and laboriously picked through the raw nutmeg, sorting it into different piles.
A factory worker then took the group upstairs for a look at other production processes; those who couldn't take the stairs simply waited downstairs and rejoined the group when it descended on the other side of the building.
A small gift shop at the factory entrance provides nutmeg themed gifts. Also women outside were selling necklaces made of spices.
|Carib Leap near Sauteurs, Grenada|
Onward to Sauteurs and Carib Leap
Our motorcoach tour then continued northward along Grenada's western side to Sauteurs, a fishing town on the far north end of the island.
Behind St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church and School, we walked through a cemetery to a cliffside spot called Carib Leap. It’s a steep, 100-foot-drop to the ocean below.
Reportedly, in 1651, the 40 remaining Carib natives, the last on the island, threw themselves into the sea, as they opted for suicide over becoming slaves to the French conquerors.
In their memory, the spot was named “le morne de Sauteurs,” which translates to Leaper’s Hill. That said, some say a few of the Indians just descended off the cliff to the ocean below and escaped.
One may never know the real story, but the legend continues. This spot is also a good place for photographs of Sauteurs and the ocean.
The Story of Rum
Next on the tour was a stop at the River Antoine Rum Distillery, a highly authentic throwback to the 1800s. Believe me, this is no modern distillery.
Watching a worker stoke a word-burning fire by pushing small logs and sticks into the open boiler door seems a process from a time long ago.
But this distillery uses those 1800s processes, even today. An original water-wheel, the oldest in the Western Hemisphere, powers rollers that squeeze juice from the sugar cane.
Within the distillery itself, one sees artifacts and old equipment still in use. Walking around the outside of the plant, sugar cane is everywhere, as are the parts of the sugar cane stalks discarded and not used in processing.
It’s important for visitors to be observant and understand this is a very rustic site. There are clearly no OSHA-like protections for visitors.
One fellow traveler on our tour actually stepped onto a covering of sugar cane lying in a railroad bed; her feet fell through and she was quickly grabbed and pulled back to her feet by other tour goers.
At the end of the tour, visitors were able to sample several of the rums and make purchases, if so desired.
However, one brand of what I term "real high test” rum -- comprised of 75 percent alcohol -- is apparently too flammable to pass through screening devices at airports.
So tell clients to not purchase it or they’ll likely have the bottle confiscated by security staff at the airport.
|Grenada's lush tropical landscape|
Lunch at Belmont Estate
My favorite stop on the tour – along with the nutmeg factory – was a lunch break at the 300-year-old Belmont Estate, which I'd describe as part working plantation and part living history museum.
While our tour group had limited time to explore after lunch, Belmont offers plantation and cocoa tours, arts and crafts at a craft cooperative, a goat dairy, gardens and a shop selling organic chocolate products.
But first, it was time for lunch. I'm positive the restaurant staffers at Belmont Estate have seen and served droves of group tours. Yet, they had a friendly nature and helpful attitude.
Servers made our tour group feel genuinely welcome. Looking around, I noticed similar service for other groups seated throughout the 250-seat, open-air restaurant.
It was a pleasure to meet so many sweet locals who truly seemed to care about whether the tourists had a pleasant lunch experience.
It was also relaxing to dine under cover but without walls – peering out at the velvety green landscape from an elevated restaurant.
Given a choice of a free drink, I chose the holiday season sorrel drink. Made from leaves of the roselle (a type of hibiscus), it resembled a cranberry drink but was amazingly light and refreshing, and not overly sour or sweet. It was pleasantly indescribable and a bit floral in its taste.
Next to come was an appetizer, essentially soup. I chose the pumpkin and would recommend it to others.
Then it was off to the main event -- the robust Creole buffet which featured such local dishes as beans and rice, fried plantains, chicken and fish with a variety of hot sauces.
Guests head to the buffet but Belmont Plantation servers dish out the hot food, kept warm via live coal pots.
Vegetables dishes are created with fresh ingredients from the estate’s own vegetable garden and local herbs and spices.
Specialties include callaloo soup, papaya salad, goat cheese salad, and the estate’s home-made ice cream featuring flavors such as coconut, bergamot and cinnamon.
Lunch also included a drink of our choice. Many chose wine, others sodas or beer. After lunch, we had about a half hour to independently explore the plantation before heading back to the coach for the afternoon’s sightseeing.
For more information on Belmont Estate, visit www.belmontestate.net.
|Annandale Falls in Grenada|
Grand Etang and Annandale Falls
One ninth of Grenada’s land mass is preserved in parkland and nature preserves. After lunch, our coach headed out to the Grand Etang Forest Reserve in the island's central region.
The coach motored higher and higher into the mountains, and the rainforest became increasingly lush.
Unfortunately, the coach passed the turn off to Grand Etang Lake, but unfortunately, did not turn to visit the lake. That's my only negative about this tour, as a stop here was specifically listed in Silversea's shore booklet.
That said, I would have liked to have seen the lake, given that we were so close and the tour brochure said we would stop. At the very least, it should have been explained by the guide to guests as to why we weren’t visiting the lake.
Instead, we stopped along the road in the park, simply to photograph a sign and mountain in the background. There wasn't much to see, frankly, so if that was the "lake stop," the line needs to adjust the shore trip listing, as there was no lake to view.
Apparently, at times one might spot mona monkeys here. None were around during our visit, but everyone understood that Mother Nature doesn’t always deliver wildlife on cue.
Still, it was a stunning ride up to the top of the park as well as on the trip down. The last stop on our tour before heading back to the ship was a visit to Annandale Falls.
No, this isn't Niagara Falls, in terms of size, but it's a very picturesque small waterfall.
It's also easily accessible, not deep in the forest. It's just a short walk from the site entrance to get your first view of the falls. If clients prefer to get closer, they can also walk further along the path to get close to the rushing waterfall.
At times, teens and young adults apparently dive into the waterfall's pool from a perch atop the hill; a tip from tourists is expected.
But there were no thrill divers during our visit. It was just a lovely setting.
Note for clients: this specific stop also has modern, clean washrooms.
St. George's Town
After the falls visit, our coach headed back to the cruise pier in St. George's. Many of our group spent a brief amount of time in the shops in the cruise terminal; it's quite a nice complex of options.
Grenada is an English speaking nation and about 75 percent of its residents are of African descent; the rest have a European or native Indian heritage. So you might hear English, the country's official language, and French-African patois spoken.
If clients don't wish to take an organized shore trip, they might just explore St. George's Town. Much is within walking distance.
One way to see the city is the Grenada Discovery Train, a track-less train that picks up cruisers every 45 minutes at the cruise terminal on cruise ship days. Tickets are for sale at the cruise pier mall or onboard the train.
Tickets are bout $20 and that entitles visitors to free entry to Fort George, an 18th century French battlement on a cliff overlooking the harbor, as well as the National Museum.
The fort is memorable not simply for its Colonial past history but for its much more recent history. On Oct. 19, 1983, Prime Minister Maurice Bishop and several members of his cabinet were executed in the fort by a faction of the People’s Revolutionary Government, which took power in 1979 with the goal of setting up a socialist/communist state in Grenada.
After the executions, at the request of the Governor General, though, the United States, Jamaica, and the Eastern Caribbean States intervened militarily. The forces restored order and a 1984 election re-established democratic government in Grenada.
Beyond the fort, cruisers interested in seeing other attractions might take a cab to Bay Gardens. Beach fans should head for one of Grenada's most popular beaches, Grand Anse Beach, located not far from St. George’s.
Not far from Grand Anse is the Laura Herb and Spice Garden, which operates short tours that discuss the island’s spice industry.
Dive enthusiasts might check out the underwater sculpture park created by Jason de Caires Taylor in clear shallow waters.
One wreck dive that’s highly popular with scuba divers is the Bianca C, often called the “Titanic of the Caribbean.”
Often rated within listings of the world’s Top 10 dive sites, this 600-foot-long ship sank in 1961 and settled upright on her keel in about 165’ of water.
The opportunity to dive into the ship’s former swimming pool is quite a thrill. In case you’re wondering, this ship sailed in 1960-61 for Costa Cruises.
Another popular activity for those visiting between December and April is whale watching. Whales and dolphins are often spotted during this seasonal period.
For all the activities cruisers might consider, visit the Grenada Board of Tourism site at www.grenadagrenadines.com.
|Last evening onboard Silversea's Silver Spirit - time to pack and reflect on a fun-filled and luxurious Caribbean voyage|
Last Night at Sea
Back on board, we began to pack for our disembarkation the next day in Barbados. We watched the sunset at the Panorama outdoor lounge, and then dined early in the dining room.
Alas, we watched the sunset but didn’t see the so-called Green Flash; Grenada is one spot in the world to see this phenomena – a flash of green light – just as the sun sets.
Our cruise on the Silver Spirit was coming to a close, as the ship was set to dock in Barbados in the morning. In total, it sailed for 1,665 nautical miles.
During our nine-night luxury voyage, we were pampered onboard and explored ashore. We admired scenery in Tortola, explored English maritime history in Antigua, walked the waterfront in Marigot, St. Martin, took a sky ride through the rainforest in St. Lucia, savored the laid-back Caribbean of the past in Bequia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and explored Spice Isle sites in Grenada.
We were well cared for onboard. Our butler was superb. The accommodations were pampering, and the guest bedding and linens were superb. We slept well onboard.
In terms of our suite features, we loved the marble walk-in shower, the soaking tub, the large bar area with a mini-refrigerator and wet bar, and our full dining table and chairs, making room service akin to having a great meal – a better one really – than at home, both in our suite and in the restaurants and public areas of Silver Spirit.
One of the thrills of any cruise is sailing in and out of port and having a private balcony from which to view the action. This cruise was no exception. Our suite, number #701 had two sliding glass doors with access to a large balcony. We had our own private perch to watch the world go by.
Throughout the ship, service levels were exceptionally good, comparatively, with both former Silversea cruises I've taken as well as cruises on other luxury lines.
We liked the personalized touches, the fact that crew knew our names early on, and that they knew what we liked and disliked in terms of drinks or services. Also a nice perk was the open bar policy, so guests don't have to provide a key card to sign for sodas or wine.
Despite being onboard for nine nights, with such a destination-focused itinerary, we didn’t do all on the ship itself we would have liked.
The weather had been rough the first two days at sea, and the remaining days were all port days when we were out and about on shore. I borrowed a book from the ship’s extensive library, but never had time to read it.
I appreciate the efforts of Paolo Percivale, Silver Spirit’s hotel director, who proactively asked the ship’s maintenance folks to work on fixing a problem with our new Medline transport chair, needed so my elderly mother didn't have to walk long distances.
One side of the chair’s support system “snapped” out of alignment during normal operations on a previous cruise two weeks before we sailed on Silver Spirit. It just couldn't be fixed by anyone who tried.
But after two Silversea maintenance employees worked their magic, the chair was fixed and we were able to use it on this cruise.
Getting off the ship was easy and without crowds. The process at the cruise pier was simple, finding our bags and a porter was easy, and clearing immigration and customs into Barbados was also quick and easy.
Many Silversea guests headed for the airport to take a flight home. Others took a shore trip of Barbados before heading to the airport. A half-day "Beautiful Barbados" and half-day "Bridgetown Walking Tour" were both offered for in-transit guests at $39 per person.
A longer full-day "Bye, Bye Barbados" tour was priced at $139 and included a visit to the Barbados Concorde Experience. The three tours then concluded by dropping guests at the airport for their flight home.
|Colony Club resort in Barbados|
We opted for a three-night, post-cruise stay at the Colony Club resort in Barbados, an Elegant Hotels property. This lovely property is oceanside with a beach, multiple pools and tropically landscaped grounds.
Upon arrival and over the next day, we met three other couples from Silver Spirit, also taking a post-cruise sojourn at this property.
Look for a review of the resort as well as a Barbados port report in an upcoming issue of Travel Agent magazine and at www.travelagentcentral.com. And thanks for following my Silver Spirit ramblings over the past two months.