First Time Cruising – Indian in the Caribbean

Being Indian, two things struck me soon after I boarded the Celebrity Summit in Puerto Rico:
1. My wife and I were part of a small minority among the passengers (under 45 years old, non-white, childless couples).
2. The staff on the Ship was predominantly Hindi speaking.

This was unsurprising. Indians tend to put up with a lot of hardship, to make a living. But we, as a nation, are not as happy to spend our hard earned money on luxuries. The staff on the ship typically spends 6 months at sea, at a stretch. Living in cramped quarters, getting shore leave once every 2 or 3 weeks for half a day. Not an ideal life.

It was easy to feel out of place, but at the same time completely ignore everyone else on the ship. The population was predominantly white republican Americans, aged over 45. We couldn’t really find anything in common with them, and after the first day, stopped going to ‘social events’ on the ship. It was funny when the ship’s stand-up comedian asked “who here likes Obama”. The theatre echoed with “boos”.

The ship was luxurious though. A bit excessive even. The service was impeccable and we were made to feel very welcome and well looked after. But we also had to cough up $25 a day in tips, in addition to the cost of the cruise. They had an excellent Gym & Spa. The pool was boring and small. The food was good, but not so good if you are vegetarian like us.

Top tips for first time cruisers (especially Indians):
1. No need for visas (or even passports) in Caribbean ports. But carry photocopies of your passport anyway.
2. Bad idea carrying passports to shore excursions — it can get wet or stolen. I managed to drench my drivers license and about $20 cash.
3. Carry a photo ID other than your passport — will need that to get back on the ship.
4. No need to buy a ‘drinks package’ in advance, unless you plan on heavy drinking.
5. All food was included, at least on this ship. Except for one fancy restaurant.
6. Avoid ship organised shore excursions when you can — crowded and generally not worth the price. Explore on your own.
7. Plan a budget before going, and then double it. Your holiday is guaranteed to turn out to be VERY expensive.

Pirating the Caribbean – Visas on the high seas

My wife and I had planned to honeymoon in the Caribbean, but had some rather funny visa problems ( see old post ). So we ended up going to Hawaii instead.

Now we plan to pirate the Caribbean sea once again. We have signed up for a cruise on Celebrity Solstice, departing Puerto Rico (USA) and returning to Puerto Rico. The table below lists destinations the ship is visiting, and the visa situation.

Destination Visa on Cruise Visa Otherwise Motivation to go
Puerto Rico (USA) Need a valid US visa to enter Puerto Rico. The cruise starts from here, and we arrive here by air. Valid US visa needed Old San Juan
St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands Valid US visa needed. The cruise company has advised us that we require a US visa for the US Virgin Islands, despite going there for 1 day on a cruise. Valid US Visa Needed Trunk Bay, St. John, US Virgin Islands
Sint Maarten / Saint Martin Cruise Ship passengers do not require a visa for stays of less than 48 hours. The Dutch embassy in London (and I assume other cities around the world) issues visas to Sint Maarten. Not sure if the French Embassy issues visas for Saint Martin. FYI, the island is shared by Netherlands and France. Phillipsburg Harbour, St. Maarten
Antigua Cruise Ship Passengers do not require a visa to Antigua & Barbuda Tourist visa required by Indian passport holders. There is no Antiguan embassy in India. However, their High Commission in London will accept applications from Indian nationals. Boat in Antigua
St. Lucia Cruise Ship Passengers do not require a visa to St. Lucia I have written to the High Commission to find out. I have read somewhere that Commonwealth citizens do not require a visa The Pitons, St. Lucia
Barbados Cruise Ship Passengers do not require a visa to Barbados Tourist visa required by Indian passport holders. There is no Barbados embassy in India. However, their High Commission in London will accept applications from Indian nationals. Thunderclouds

Hope this helps you plan your travels to the region!

Update:
I am just finishing up this trip. I had no trouble at all with visas. My US B1/B2 visa was perfectly valid for Puerto Rico (this was my 3rd entry to the USA on this visa). I have had no trouble using the B1/B2 visa for business and tourism. No other country on this trip demanded a visa (or even a passport).

Sources:
St. Maarten: http://www.dutchembassyuk.org/consular/index.php?i=538
Antigua & Barbuda: http://www.antigua-barbuda.org/Agtip01.htm
St. Lucia: http://www.stlucia.gov.lc/faq/do_i_need_a_visa_to_enter_saint_lucia.htm#Visa_Fees_And_Exemptions