Caribbean Islands. 3 More Amazing Things About This Incredible Part Of the World.

Caribbean Islands. 3 More Amazing Things About This Amazing Part Of the World. Including the 3 most popular islands for cruising, how the islands were named and the how the trading ships made the islands heavier by what they brought from Europe and left on the islands!

St Thomas in the Caribbean

St Thomas in the Caribbean

It is no secret that I think the Caribbean is one of the most glorious places in the world to visit. It is so lush and green – and that is just the sea, with its sizzlingly vibrant blue and green sea and soft sands. The wild volcanic generated island landscapes, covered in dense green vegetation, I find breathtaking and gorgeous to stare at. The history of centuries of bickering, and battles, between the Western Colonial powers like Britain, France, Spain, Denmark and Holland fascinates me. The horrors of the massacre and destruction of the indigenous Carib Indians, and the wealth generated through the brutality of slavery both appall and interest me. The romance of pirates who worked the area, brought to life again through the Pirates of the Caribbean films, thrill and excite me. And of course, the struggle and battle underway in the Caribbean to find a new purpose with the death of the sugar industry really engages me. The place is fascinating, beautiful, vibrant and changing.

Tourism and cruising are the focus of the region for now. And so I, like millions of others, are finding it easier to travel and explore the region. I have visited the Caribbean many times now, and every time that I do I find out more and have greater affection for the area.

In past articles, I have written about what to expect when exploring the area on a cruise or land based visits. Some of the trends and developments are concerning, but do not yet ruin a visit. For some of the previous articles about the region, see the list at the end of this article.

Every time I visit I discover more exciting, fascinating or unusual things about the region and the islands. In this article I share 3 recent discoveries that I found of interest.

This article shares 3 new things that I discovered on a recent 2 week visit while cruising around some of the islands on Cunard’s Queen Mary 2. On this trip I was revisiting St. Kitts and St. Lucia, and was visiting for the first time the islands of Dominica, St. Maarten and St.Thomas.

Discovery #1: Why so many islands in the Caribbean are called “Saint” something. Plus at least one Saint that is not a Saint!

Many of the islands in the Caribbean are called “Saint” something. It seems that Christopher Columbus had much more influence and impact on the Caribbean region than I had ever appreciated from my history at school. On his first expedition to the region, he had at first mistaken the region for India. Hence the indigenous people he encountered being called “indians”. It was this expedition for which history attributes him with “discovering” America.

What I found out on this expedition of my own, is that on his second voyage he was dispatched with a book of Saints by the Spanish Queen and proceeded to name islands he encountered, with some generous abandon, after Saints. He even named many that he did not even land on (as he feared the wrath of the indigenous Carib Indians in many cases). He even took some liberties and named one St Barts – which is actually named after his brother rather than a saint!

Discovery #2: Why the locals say that the islands got heavier, thanks to the cargo-less European trading ships!

Across most of the islands houses, fortresses and other buildings are built of stone. Although some of them are now in ruins, you see a great deal of stone buildings in some of the older occupied parts of towns. However, most of these are not built of local stone, but from stones from all around Europe!

It seems that the old wooden trading ships that were travelling to the region to fetch goods would travel over from Europe empty of cargo, and so were filled up with stones to provide ballast to help the ship sail from Europe with greater stability. On arrival the stones were dumped on the shore or ports, and the ships filled up with a cargo of fruits, spices, salt, sugar and other goods for the return trip. Locals joke that this trade made the islands heavier as it brought so much stone from Europe.

Discovery #3: What the 3 busiest cruise ports in the Caribbean are, and that they are all very are handy for the USA.

The 3 busiest cruise ports in the Caribbean are, not surprisingly, ones that are close to the United States and in the northern part of the region. They are very convenient for the heavy churn of 7 night Caribbean cruises out of the massive Florida cruise centres (Miami and Fort Lauderdale primarily). They also, as a result, also have strong American links and feel.

The 3 busiest Caribbean cruise ports are:
1.    Puerto Rico.
2.    St. Thomas, which is the largest of the American Virgin Islands – which were bought off the Danes in the early 1900s.
3.    St. Maarten, and primarily the Dutch side of the divided island which is better protected weather wise for ships to be able to dock.

At times in the busy winter season, these ports can have up to 7 ships and some 23,000 passengers, plus crew on top of that visiting. Even the smallest of these 3 (St. Maarten) gets over 1,7 million cruise passengers a year!

Unlike some of the more Southern islands, these islands  – and the ones around them – feel much more “western” and less “authentic” Caribbean in feel to me. They also do seem to be more affluent, look more up-market, tend to have more modern (and actually more generic) buildings and, most noticeably, the tourism interface seems to be more white American, or European, than ethnic Caribbean.

Though this may be more a quirk of my experience on the islands, it did strike me that the tours I went on, and some of the facilities like restaurants and shops, were being run more by White ex-pats or people that had moved to the islands since the cruise, and associated tourism rush, began than local Caribbean people. The port officials, taxi drivers and more similar roles were staffed by locals. Maybe it was a quirk than a trend. However, in islands like Barbados, Grenada, St Kitts and St Lucia this was not my experience over the years that I have been there.

What discoveries do you have to add to my list? Please leave a comment, Tweet me or email me!

Other reading about the Caribbean:

Gary Bembridge

I grew up in Zimbabwe, but I have been based in London since 1987. My travel life spans more than three decades and that includes more than 95 cruises. In 2005, I launched Tips for Travellers to make it easy and fun for people to discover, plan and enjoy incredible cruise vacations. And the rest, as they say, is history. I have the largest cruise vlogger channel currently on YouTube, with more than 3 million video views per month.

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