Look who’s back! It’s been a long month away from the blog, mes chéries, I know. This year hasn’t been easy for me, and I’ve distanced myself from everything for a while. Luckily, my 8-day vacation in paradise arrived at the perfect time last week and gave me the perfect way to come back on the blog.
Last week, I boarded a Royal Caribbean cruise in San Juan, Puerto Rico (after a day of exploration) and island hopped for five days to St. Thomas, St. Kitts, Antigua, St. Lucia, and Barbados with 10 of the younger girls I was close to in my sorority. I missed spending time with them, had never been on a cruise, and always wanted to visit these islands. So I figured, why not get away from the snow and gloom of New York City for a bit?
Each day was jam packed with activities, hysterical series of events, and memorable bonding moments with my friends. Throughout the trip, I also learned a few things, both silly and serious, that shifted my perspectives and mindset greatly by the time I returned home. I hope you enjoy my adventures and its impact on me as you read this travel diary.
My only warning: prepare for a photo dump!
SUNDAY 1 & 2: San Juan, Puerto Rico
After an unspeakably rough few weeks, I woke up after maybe two hours of sleep on Sunday morning around 4am and hopped into a cab to hustle to JFK Airport. I spent the plane ride physically passed out but mentally awake, sifting through one too many thoughts shouting on top of each other in my head. The few weeks I was leaving behind was especially full of changes and questions, but we’ll get into that another time.
Four hours later, I landed in Puerto Rico and was hugged by the warm humid air. I met up with the group in Old San Juan at a local favorite restaurant, La Cuerva Del Mar, where I got arguably the best fish taco of my life. We then headed towards the historical fort outside of Castillo de San Cristóbal (where I shamelessly shoved two tacos down my throat on the ledge of a historical landmark).
After climbing the fort, we wandered around the beautifully colored and quaint Old San Juan city, enjoying the cobblestone streets, brightly painted walls, and local shops. The warmth of the town and its people put a much needed smile on my face.
In Old San Juan, I had a delicious açai bowl from Bowls and a lemonade ice pop from Señor Paleta. I know that you can get both anywhere, but some how Puerto Rico just made them both much better than any bowl or ice pop I had elsewhere in the states. I also had the chance to visit the restaurant that invented the piña colada!
Old San Juan an its people are a treasure, and I was lucky enough to see it again on the last day before I left for home:
But back to day one! That night, we boarded our ship, Jewel of the Seas, and began our adventure. I learned two very important things that evening, as you will soon see I did every evening:
- When the ship is moving, good f*ing luck. You will feel like you’re drunk or hypnotized because anyone walking straight dead sober deserves an award.
- I have a fear of shipwrecks and drowning. Someone please tell me why I chose to go on this vacation. 🤔
BOTH TANKS: Banana Republic
DRESS: Necessary Clothing
SHOES: Madden Girl
MONDAY: Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands
Our first stop an excursion was at St. Thomas where we embarked on a catamaran with the company Castaway Girl and sped to Buck Island for snorkeling. To be honest, most of us weren’t that into snorkeling, but we really wanted to be on a catamaran. The snorkeling was ok, not as exciting as I thought it would be but still fun. However, I was reminded of the time I nearly drowned myself in an underground cave in Mexico because water got into my snorkel when history repeated itself. (Again, why am I here? 🤔)
The shipwreck we saw was that of Cartanza Señora (see photos from Google below), a 190 foot long freighter that shipped goods during WWII. After the war, she was used to shipped agricultural goods from South America up the Caribbean islands. However, not all cargo was legal at the time. For an unknown reason (possibly because the Coast Guard would invade the ship for the illegal goods), the ship was abandoned by her captain and crew and left to sink in the harbor at St. Thomas in the late 1970s.
In 1979, the ship was moved to Buck Island since it was considered a navigation hazard to ships and cruise ships docking in St. Thomas. There, it rested as an advanced wreck dive before Hurricane Hugo chopped it up into three pieces. She now lays about 45 feet under water as a home to many sea species.
After seeing the shipwreck, we hopped back on the catamaran to Turtle Cove on the other side of the island. I was mildly disappoint because I saw ONE turtle. Dude, he wasn’t even as cool as Crush. But I guess it was still an experience considering a BARRACUDA of all things swam out from right under me as a stingray rustled in the sand a few feet away. I panicked and nearly choked on saltwater in my snorkel. Again. Why am I here? 🤔
The catamaran ride back was incredible. Between the splash of the water spraying upwards, the sunshine, the sea breeze, and great conversations, I finally felt a wave of serenity I was hoping for. The unlimited rum punch also definitely helped. 😂
Back at the marina, I got to bond with my grandlittle/partner in crime (pictured above) and enjoy the local favorite “Hurricane Irma” cocktail (YIKES at that name… isn’t it too soon?) at the little hut bar by the dock. That evening back on the ship, I enjoyed my first Caribbean sunset just a bit away from the rest of the group, coated with a warmth only the tropical air and just the right amount of rum could bring before I got ready for formal dining night.
As for what I learned on day two? Well…
- I hate snorkeling, and I need to stop doing it. I manage to half drown every time.
- Never be the last one in a group of snorkelers as they head back to the boat. It doesn’t matter where you go, because everyone is 100% peeing in the ocean and kicking the warmth in your face. Talk about a new sisterhood bonding moment… 😂
- It is impossible to get a good group photo of 11 people, so we are just going to settle for the demon eyes. 👀
TUESDAY: Bassetere, St. Kitts
Nothing in the world prepared me for the excursion at St. Kitts. Seven of us embarked on a strenuous 6 mile hike up Mount Liamuiga, a volcano in the center of the island. We hiked an elevation of 2,380 feet: 3 miles up, 3 miles down. The top half of the trek consisted of scaling up rocks and tree roots at a near vertical slope. It was not for everyone seeing that half the group that came on the excursion had to turn around halfway and go back to the port, but it was an experience I’m so glad I challenged myself to take on.
The trail was slippery and muddy at times, but every so often I’d stop to take a breather and look around me. The air was sweet with a hint of eucalyptus sap. The villages by the shore would peak out from between the tropical trees at higher points. The light breeze and rustle of leaves calmed me down, despite how fast my heart rate and breath were.
I loved how the hike was so strenuous that I couldn’t mentally think about anything other than enjoying what was right in front of me (and not slipping) because it allowed me to strictly focus on the moment and the beautiful scenery around me. But then, I was right back to dying and praying I don’t trigger my bilateral foot injury. Looking back, I think that trail took off two years of my life and drained out a pound of sweat from me.
The most rewarding feeling came about two hours into the hike when our group finally reached the top. The air was so fresh and cool, helping me catch my breath after a treacherous ascend. But it was the view that really took the cake. You could look down into the crater of the volcano and see all the walls of it covered in luscious leafy green vegetation.
At the end of the hike, we stuffed ourselves with sandwiches and Carib beer, which is their classic lager. I know that I only think this because I was deliriously tired, but that sandwich and beer tasted like the greatest sandwich and beer to ever touch my tongue. As we sat on the bus and waited to leave for the port, one of the tour guides pulled out his guitar and started an Ed Sheeran jam session with us, ending the day on a sweet note.
Lesson for this day?
- What goes up, must come down. Literally.
- Sometimes a cold beer can fix anything. 🍺
SPORTS BRA: Lululemon
BODYSUIT: Necessary Clothing
SKIRT: Urban Outfitters
HEELS: Just Fab
WEDNESDAY: St. John’s, Antigua
After the strenuous hike the day before, I managed to avoid triggering my feet injury (yes, I gave myself a bilateral foot injury all of February in case you missed that sh*tshow on my Snapchat) by plopping myself into the jacuzzi for about two hours. Thankfully, this next day consisted of no excursions, just the beach.
After driving through parts of the island, we reached Dickenson Bay’s Siboney Beach Club where we enjoyed the soft sand, mingled with the guests of the neighboring cruise ship at the marina, Brittania, and dipped ourselves into the beautiful aqua waters.
It was here in Antigua where I drank out of my very first coconut! The only caveat is the vendor essentially filled it all up with rum… 🥥 At least I got to taste the fresh coconut water first, I guess?
Also, can we just laugh at how pale I still was that morning prior to burning my entire upper body? 😅
We also befriended the couple running the small tiki hut bar on the beach. He and his wife cooked up a bunch of delicious burgers and hot dogs – which all of us agreed was probably the best chicken burger/hot dogs any of us have ever had – and mixed us different rum punches to enjoy. My one regret was not asking about their story and move to Antigua from the UK.
Best part of the bar was this sign though, reminding me how far away my problems were. 😎
Overall, it was a beautifully relaxing day. However, I learned two serious lessons that day.
- If you think the sun is 50 times stronger by the equator, multiply that by 2. Despite lathering up in sunscreen, I ended up burning my entire forearms, chest, shoulders, upper back, and weirdly enough, butt. While my burns have sort of evened out to a dark brown to match the rest of my actual tan body, it was not a fun few days… I was about 50 shades of tan and red until Saturday.
- Like the islands before and after Antigua, you were able to drive past villages and towns of people living their daily lives. While it was interesting to people watch, the stark contrast between resorts and beach clubs versus the common citizen’s estate and lifestyle was apparent. Yet everyone was still so full of life and warmth regardless. It really made me take a step back and learn to appreciate things and life itself more.
BIKINI TOP: Everything But Water
BIKINI BOTTOM: Aerie
COVER UP: ASOS
TANK TOP: Garage
PANTS: Banana Republic
HEELS: Just Fab
THURSDAY: Castries, St. Lucia
St. Lucia was probably my favorite day of the trip. Not only did we see so much of the island, it reminded me so much of Taiwan (we actually passed a Taiwan embassy in St. Kitts and saw a sign for a Taiwan government building in St. Lucia, which warmed my heart).
Although we docked in Castries, our day in St. Lucia was spent far from the port. Our group participated in a highly raved about Cosol Tours excursion instead of a Royal Caribbean excursion. The tour consisted of multiple guides that took cruise guests in groups of 12 to a handful of places along the southwest side of St. Lucia.
Our first stop was a banana plantation!
Here, we learned that banana trees only sprout one large bunch before dying. So once the tree is harvested, its remains are thrown into the plantation where it eventually sprouts into many more banana trees. We got to try banana ketchup and banana BBQ sauce (which sound odd but were surprisingly delicious) on a banana chip. Then, we were welcomed to the island with a shot of spiced rum (that tasted like a Caribbean version of Fireball) bright and early (since it was barely 9am) with a sweet baby banana as a chaser.
All I can say is, never again.
After the banana plantation, we drove up to two view points where you could see the ocean, mountains, and fishing villages. The view was so serene. Next, we drove through the fishing villages of Anse La Raye and Canaries before passing by Marigot Bay where the movie Dr. Doolittle was filmed.
At one of the view points, there was a market with tons of packaged spices and locally spiced rum for sale. One of the rum bottles was full of mangos while others were teeming with anything ranging from cinnamon to different herbs.
Our last stop in the morning was at Cosol’s home where all the tours of 12 were fed a buffet of local tropical fruits, delicious St. Lucian dishes, the locally spiced rum, and the St. Lucian beer, Pitons. The most exciting food for me was the sugarcane sticks and passion fruit. I would gorge myself with both as a kid every summer I was back in Taiwan, and I had not chewed on sugarcane since I was in middle school. To say I was excited is a large understatement.
After lunch, we drove to Toraille Waterfall where we stood under the cascading water. On paper, this sounds like a great idea and a very cool experience. When do you get to stand under a natural waterfall, right? Well, turns out this was probably my least favorite part since there were too many tour groups trying to cram into the small pond of water, and the rocks at the bottom of the pool seemed to have an agenda with my feet. 😤
However, this stop on the tour definitely rendered some of the greatest photos. For starters, our group photo is just a bright picture with all 11 of us in a smudgy blur on the left-hand corner. Any other group or solo photo attempt resulted in unintentional photobombing.
I’ll just leave these here. Let me know if you can even find us!!!!!!!
Afterwards, we made our way to the town of Soufrière which sits right before the twin pitons. We boarded a speed boat and looped around the first piton to reach Sugar Beach, a beautiful private beach between the twin pitons. All eleven of us very small humans sat at the front of the boat and nearly flew out of it with each bump over a wave, and all eleven of us still have bruises from knocking into some part of the boat itself or each other. Despite the pain, the view from the boat was astounding.
Now if we thought the view from the boat was beautiful, Sugar Beach’s beauty was unparalleled. The water was blue-green and the perfect temperature. You could snorkel off the dock or relax in floating rings out in the water or sit in the sand and soak up the sun. Sailboats floated around the cove adding to a simply breathtaking landscape.
The resort is so peaceful and secluded from the rest of the island by the mountains that you can’t help but feel like you’re in a separate world. The pitons stand as guards to your oasis as you float in the water. On the side of the mountains surrounding the beach are beautiful and lavish mansions that I can only wish I could purchase one day.
After an hour at the beach, we speed-boated back to Soufrière and drove to our last stop, a drive-in volcano where we bathed in a mineral mud bath. The strong smell of sulfur welcome us in as we entered the hot bath. After sitting in it for a few minutes, we would get out and spread the light charcoal colored clay all over our bodies (and faces if you wished). There was also a dark charcoal colored clay that apparently had a little less minerals than the light one. Next, you would stand out in the sun to let the clay dry like a full-body mask before dipping back into the bath to wash it off. The clay leaves your whole body feeling soft and smooth.
I only dipped my legs into the bath, as my sunburn was at its peak pain and the scalding hot bath water nearly took my epidermis right off. Everyone else around me went full on into the mud. All I can say is, I definitely had FOMO.
After the baths, we headed home and stopped at our last viewing point to bid Soufrière adieu. The image of the ocean licking the edge of the adorable fishing village still sits in my mind so vividly.
The day was stocked with beautiful views and truly unforgettable laughs, memories, and bonding moments. But if I had to pick out something I learned that day, it was:
- At some point you reach a point of diminishing marginal utility for island rum punch. 🍹
- Watching drunk people at dance their way out of the dining room while you’re sober is about 10x more entertaining on a speeding ship… I’ll spare you all the stories.
ONE PIECE: Target
HEELS: Just Fab
FRIDAY: Bridgetown, Barbados
The last stop on our cruise was Barbados. Although we docked in Bridgetown, we hopped into a cab at 8:45am and headed for Carlisle Bay for a day of water activity and the beach. The sand was the softest out of all the islands and the water was probably the clearest form of Caribbean blue, since it is the east-most and south-most island we visited.
Although we were on a more commercial beach, there was also a fort at the far end of the beach which a few of the girls explored. I’m honestly unclear about the history of it, but I can definitely say Google told me it dates back to the 1600s when it was built to protect the island from any invaders.
After laying out on the beach all morning, we hopped onto a speed boat for a tour of the west side of Barbados. During the tour, we passed by the cruise port where someone on our lovely ship mooned us from above. 🌝 I could have lived my whole life without seeing that.
We passed the old Malibu factory that closed down when they moved their plant to St. Lucia, but could still smell the strong scent of rum in the air as we passed. Next, we passed by the resort where Tiger Woods held his wedding before reaching Rihanna’s mansion. As the boat slowed down, we saw two people standing on her balcony. No clue who they were, but at least we can say friends of Rihanna waved back at us!!!
After the tour of the coast, we hopped onto an inflatable floating banana that was tied to the boat and rode it around the bay a few times. We absolutely chose to be obnoxious and scream the lyrics to Bananas by Gwen Stefani the entire time. Unfortunately for the rest of the beach goers who probably hated us and wanted us to fall off, but we all survived the banana. 😎🍌
That night, we watched the sun set again before our final formal dinner night. As we were out on the deck, we ran into two women who introduced themselves as alumna of our sorority from a chapter in Canada! It was so cute meeting them, and they bid us farewell hoping in 30 years we will still be cruising with our closest sisters like they were.
We enjoyed a delicious dinner and attempted to head to the night club on the ship. Sadly, the sun took a lot out of us and we didn’t drink much coffee, so we were all snoozing by midnight. I guess the lesson of the day was one I apparently forgot in my year out of college:
- RALLY AGAIN.
- RALLY SOME MORE.
BIKINI: Victoria’s Secret
COVER UP: ASOS
JUMPSUIT: Banana Republic
HEELS: Just Fab
The last day was dedicated to packing and enjoying the ship one last time. It was actually St. Patrick’s Day so the deck was teeming with guests. There was a belly flop contest, a speed rock climbing contest (which one of my friends won), and an officers vs. guests pool volleyball tournament. Our team recruited a middle-aged guy, Craig, who used to play volleyball. The rest of us 5 girls had to learn the hard way that the pool was saltwater (how we didn’t pick this up all week boggles my mind) and that none but one of us were tall enough. Needless to say, Craig was the MVP and we won our match!
The rest of the afternoon was dedicated to piña coladas in pineapples, sunshine, making the most out of the buffet one last time, and watching the Caribbean sunset one last time. It was definitely a wonderful way to end a bustling week.
BIKINI TOP: H&M
BIKINI BOTTOM: Target
It’s been a week since I’ve been home, and I have to say this week at home passed faster than the week on the cruise (thank GOD). I’m still recovering from the very little sleep I got on the cruise thanks to the motion of the ocean. I’m also so dark my friends have been joking that I switched ethnicities. 😂 Let’s just hope I don’t start looking splotchy if I peel…
I left for this trip feeling a little lost, a little out of control, and a whole lot of emotional. Being in tropical weather around such happy people taught me to take a step back from my problems and enjoy the little things again. Creating new memories with old friends and laughing through endless conversations reminded me that I need to live in the present more.
I’m not sure if it’s because I’m still drained from the trip or what, but since I’ve been home my anxiety has decreased significantly. The things that have been dragging my spirits down seem to drift further away by each day. I’ll be posting a personal entry soon about the things I’ve been going through, but for this one just know my biggest takeaway from an active tropical vacation is this:
Life is simpler than it seems. Celebrate it more often than you strip it of its beauty.
Until next time, bisou bisou…