Best of The Best: Caribbean 2016

By: Mandy Seymour, Managing Editor,  Best Rated Reviews

In today’s world of travel, vacations have often become synonymous with a whirlwind tour that leaves you feeling invigorated and exhausted at the same time like you actually need a vacation from your vacation when you return home.

But we believe the” best of the best” vacation is one in which you have scintillating experiences that achieves a perfect balance between invigoration and relaxation.

Achieving a best of the best Caribbean vacation for a reasonable price can be challenging. But it can be done.

When we envision the Caribbean, we imagine a beautiful idyllic beach setting that’s tranquil, tropical, hardly populated and remote.  However, if you are neither extremely rich or famous, then a remote island is hard to come by.  So what’s the best option for someone looking for luxury on a reasonable budget?

If you are looking to find paradise on earth close to home, we recommend cruising  the Caribbean.  The Caribbean is a lush, tropical paradise surrounded by brilliant turquoise and azure waters.  When you see them, they immediately transport you to a place of indomitable relaxation.

This year, we sought out a trip that gave the “best of the best on a budget”.  We used Vacations To Go (www.vacationstogo.com) to plan our cruise.  For as little as $400-$600/pp., you can find a relaxing cruise that visits several ports of call.  Once we decided where we wanted to go, we booked flights through American Airlines. (They had the lowest fare at that time.  However, neither company meet our “best of the best” standard due to repeatedly poor customer service.)

We chose a cruise that disembarked from San Juan, Puerto Rico.  Although many cruises disembark from the continental U.S., if you want to maximize your time on the islands, we recommend taking a flight that gets you closer to the places you desire to visit.

SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO

The first night, we flew into San Juan, Puerto Rico.  We arranged a transfer to our hotel through Fine Line Tours (www.FineLineTours.com.)  Fine Line Tours specializes in airport and hotel transfers and related tours.  We were very pleased with their services.  Our driver was hospitable, friendly, and a safe driver.  He picked us up at the San Juan International Airport and took us to our lodging located 45 minutes away at the edge of El Yunque.

We spent the night at Hacienda Siesta Alegre (www.haciendasiestaalegre).  We enjoyed a great stay there and highly recommend it as the “best of the best” lodging in Puerto Rico.   It is a romantic, Spanish-style inn with open verandas and lovely tropical settings.  Nestled in the rainforest, it provides a welcome respite of solitude, tranquility and beauty.  Hacienda Siesta Alegre has a longstanding reputation as a wedding venue. Yet in recent years, they have added accommodations.  Rates are $155 per night and include breakfast.  Our accommodations were clean, welcoming and looked out onto a beautiful view of Puerto Rican tropical paradise.

THE CRUISE: CELEBRITY CRUISES

We booked a 7-night cruise with Celebrity cruise lines.  Celebrity is a sleekly modern cruise line with luxury amenities and attentive, accommodating hospitality.

If you are looking for classy and not stuffy, invigorating yet relaxing cruise, we recommend Celebrity cruises.  We chose to review Celebrity Summit based on its widely-recognized commitment to quality and guest satisfaction.  We found our experience to be consistent with the acclaimed praise for which Celebrity Cruises is known.

What’s their secret?  We believe it is their heart for what they do.  We asked the key staff, “What is the best part of your job?”  The answers they gave all conveyed a sincere love for cruising as a lifestyle, attentive commitment and conscientiousness to detail, and an underlying desire to share their happiness at sea with their guests.

During a “getting to know you” meeting with the staff, a cruise critic blogger asked them to tell us a  story about the “pasenenger from Hell.”  The staff handled it diplomtically, saying, “We have excellent passengers”.  Yet what I found myself is thinking is, “Why do people look for what’s wrong?  There is so much that is right and praiseworthy – especially here – and everywhere in the world, why spend a moment looking for what’s not?  If more people looked for the good, there would be so many more happy people in the world!  We felt the entire time that Celebrity truly values its customers and focuses on the “best of the best”.  The staff handled this moment with great class and we respect them for it.

{That’s why I like writing for Best Rated Reviews – because we are on a mission to find what is good, noble, praiseworthy and true in the world and make it known. Those are qualities that eminate from the travel, leisure and related products that we review.  Those qualities effervesce from that which is the “best of the best”.  The desire in our hearts to find what is good and praisworthy and to enjoy it and celebrate it attracts people, companies, and experiences that have the same values.  It’s the good ol prinicipal of “like attracts like”.)

First impressions are often lasting ones.  We have found Celebrity to be elegant, classy, relaxing, fresh and clean but not stuffy.   It is energized but not rambunctious.  Staffmembers were consistently attentive, courteous, and sincere in their devotion to guest happiness.  Yet again, we believe it’s because they truly enjoy what they do.  It’s not a mere job to them.  It’s a vocation and a lifestyle.

Yet they do not take their high standards and acheivemet for granted.  Celebrity Summit’s entertainment host said, “We feel we are the best ship in the fleet.  But we want to prove that to you.”

We stayed in a suite.  We found the red and gold color scheme to be romantic yet modernly luxurious.  The rooms were impeccably clean and well-maintained by housekeeping.

Room service is also available and included with your stay on the ship.  This is an extra luxury that is somehow even more enjoyable since it is complimentary.  However, tipping for this service is important, so we advise you keep this in mind.

We enjoyed Celebrity dining.  Highlights included Sunday brunch at sea and elegant, scrumptious dinners in the main restaurant.

PORTS OF CALL AND EXCURSIONS

We visited several ports of call on our 7-night cruise.  However, to keep within our budget, we pre-arranged our own excursions.  While cruise lines offer some great excursions, the magnitude of passengers participating sometimes reduce the experience to impersonal travel and leave very little quality time to truly discover and enjoy the place you’ve come so far to enjoy!

Sometimes participating in excursions through the cruise lines can double the cost of your trip – and be half the fun for the reasons mentioned above – when you are traveling on a budget.  So pre-planning will serve you well, save you money, and give you a better chance at experiencing the adventure you are seeking.

PORTS OF CALL

Ports of Call we visited included:

San Juan, Puerto Rico, Barbados, St. Lucia, Antigua, St. Maarten, and St. Thomas

HIGHLIGHTS:

“Best of the Best” Highlights included:

Swimming with the Turtles and Shipwreck  in Barbados, Antigua Island Tour, and St. Thomas Island Tour

Barbados Best Excursion: Swimming with the Turtles

We booked a Swimming with the Turtles (3 hr.) catamaran cruise with Action Charters. (www.actioncharters.org). Action Charters took us out into the azure waters for a relaxing sail and snorkel with sea turtles.  We also snorkeled above a ship wreck.

On our last full day, we disembarked in St. Thomas.  We took a full-day island tour.  We visited one of the island’s most pristine beaches.  It was truly paradise on earth.  The waters were bathwater-warm, as clear as glass, and quite tranquil.  We didn’t want to leave!

Each day contained adventures which made for lasting memories.  Since we were seeking luxury on a budget, we booked our own excursions when we arrived to the island.  We traveled around St. Maarten on a mophead.  We ate delicious French pastries there on the French side.  We visited beautiful beaches on every island.

All in all, a trip to the Caribbean is a vacation of a lifetime.  We highly recommend it as “best of the best.”

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