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Friday, January 9, 2015

These Ports are Made for Walking

If you’re like me, you really appreciate a port with lots to do right around the pier. After all, ease of travel is one of the best parts of cruising.
Fortunately, there are a number of ports that are made for walking. And two that come immediately to mind are the Eastern Caribbean’s San Juan and St. Maarten. Here’s why:
San Juan

The colorful, captivating Old San Juan--just steps away from your ship

Even before you pull into the pier, you know this place will be special. The imposing 16th century San Felipe del Morro fort greets your ship as you enter the harbor and land at old Europe’s doorstep. Walk off the gangway and you’re smack in the middle of Old San Juan, complete with lapis-blue cobblestones, horse-drawn carriages, statue-studded fountains and thriving cafes. Throw in the pastel facades of the Caribbean and you’re in picture-taking paradise.  
El Morro is one of two fascinating forts you can walk to in town; 17th century Fort San Cristobal is the other. They’re well-preserved and each takes hours to explore. And with their positioning on the ocean, the photo ops are perfect.
Then there’s the shopping, the restaurants, the bars and the people watching. With your ship still tied up at the pier when night falls, you can see the place really heat up. Hang out at the plaza near Starbucks on the Calle Tetuan and let a fellow fill your arms with parrots—for a price, of course.

St. Maarten

Philipsburg has it all—shopping selections from high end to tchotchkes priced just right, a beach with cheap umbrella-chair-beer combos, restaurants, bars, casinos, all manner of water sports, Segways on the sidewalk and an overall lively scene. And once you take the water taxi, it’s all as far as you can throw your flip-flop.  

You can pick up the little ferry at the end of the cruise pier and it’s a great bargain: $5 for one way or $7 for an all-day pass (yes, you read that right). The ride is 10 minutes max, and you can even get a brew to go with your view of the turquoise water, beach and town.

Musing’s Top Tip: At the end of a cul-de-sac alley off the Boardwalk, near the courthouse, is a shop that sells inexpensive original paintings by local artists ($10-50 and up). Look for the cluster of paintings leaning against the wall (see photo above, third row) at the alley's entrance. Bargaining is accepted and don’t be surprised to find your artwork wrapped to go in the local newspaper.