Puerto Plata: The waterfalls of Damajagua

One of the first things you do after booking a cruise (or even shopping for a cruise) is check out the shore excursions and what each island stop has to offer. In our case, the only port my mom (the cruiser extraordinaire) hasn’t already been to was Amber Cove, The Dominican Republic. This was a huge win as it opened up a whole new host of possible shore excursions and places to explore a new. The very first excursion that stood out was the waterfalls of Damajagua.

Described as “the adventure of a lifetime in the Dominican Republic’s best kept secret and natural wonder, the Waterfalls of Rio de Damajagua. Begin your journey with a 40-minute hike through beautiful landscapes to the first of several breathtaking waterfalls, where you can slide into a fresh, sparkling pool of mountain water waiting down below. Each waterfall and pool comes with its very own personality, and you’ll soon find yourself celebrating with every waterfall you conquer. This thrilling adventure has it all; from hiking trails with breathtaking scenery, canyoneering through narrow passages, sliding down natural waterslides, and swimming through caverns leaving you with memories never to be forgotten.” 
Need I say more? We were onboard. Cruise booked, excursion booked, wardrobe planned (you need water capable closed toed shoes or risk trudging 40+ minutes in crappy water shoes) we were so excited for this tour.
When we arrived at the port of Amber Cove bright and early, we expected to have to ferry into port but instead it was a straight walk off the ship (no small boat needed) We got to walk past most of the fun little shops and cafes in the port, meeting our tour operator at a bus terminal and climbing onboard. It was a short 30 minute ride (another selling point for this tour) and we arrived ready to do some jumping and sliding and beautiful water.
Arrival at the tour base: It was chaotic to say the least, you HAVE to have a locker as the only thing you are allowed to bring with you is a water proof camera, and when you cruise.. you bring stuff with you. It’s a fact of the game. So expensive locker paid for, we battled next the idea of having to wear sneakers vs. water sandals. After changing into my sneakers I found out apparently there is a form you can sign saying you know the risks in wearing sandals but still prefer them. Great. I had already shoved everything into our locker so I decided to just go with it in my tennis shoes (praying they’d dry out in time for my gym sesh the next day) After 20 minutes of battling people for locker positions, gearing up with a life jacket/ helmet combo, and using the restroom, we set forth on a 40 minute “hike”
Family photo starting our hike

You first cross a swing bridge which is fun to walk across but kind of unnecessary as there wasn’t at the time any water flowing under it. Then about 10 minutes later, you cross a small river and start your upward climb. The trail is almost completely fenced on both sides whether to keep wildlife off the trail, or keep the tourists off the farms.. I’m not sure. It was somewhat disappointing not to have much of a view for this whole walk. They did have some of the plants named which was nice, and at one point we spotted a cow behind some of the vegetation fence, but for the most part… it was a walk up a fair few stairs with 20 strangers and the tour guide’s video camera pointed at you. Lol

Walking at the back of the pack
Finally you reach the top where you must finish your provided water so that you can toss it in the last available trash. You descend some steps and get your first view of the canyon and water which reminds you that the money and the walk were worth it.
Lining up for the first jump
 Then you spy the jumping platform about 15 feet (?) above a narrow canyon that you get to jump into! (For the less brave, there’s a ladder you can climb down) The first jump is pretty high to get started making it a little more thrilling than I think it would normally be. You swim back up the canyon a bit where a guide helps you climb into a secret pool with a waterfall which was very scenic though dark and difficult to get photos with. (You’re also crowded into this small pool with the entire tour group of 15-20 people) So after a few group photos are taken in the small pool, you get to slide out of it and swim to the next set of falls.
Narrow canyons 
In front of one of the smaller slides
There’s 5 in all with a few you can jump OR slide and a few that are just slides. We all slid as I felt that was a bit more unique (I can cliff jump a lot of places) The best parts were walking through the more slotty sections with narrow green covered walls.
The last slide or jump depending on your preference
All in all some may think that was enough. (my mom was about done and wouldn’t have wanted to do anything scarier than what we did.) I felt only 5 waterfalls and like 40 minutes in the water for $90 was a bit steep. But then I’m also incredibly spoiled with stunning canyons all over Utah that I can explore for free so I’m probably biased! Either way it was beautiful and worth seeing. We had a short 20 minute walk back and then some time to clean up and collect our stuff but not really enough time to get food before we were back on the bus riding to the port. 
All in all I’d say the adventure was worth it, but check this link out for a tour (not organized by carnival) to do all 27 waterfalls/ pools. It has a 70 minute hike approach but much more time in the water and hopefully… smaller tour groups so you aren’t 15 people to tour guide.

More photos from in the canyons
 Side views from one of the slides

A day in the US VI: St. Thomas

A day in the US Virgin Islands : St. Thomas
While planning a trip to the Carribbean you have several clusters of islands to choose from, one of which is the US Virgin Islands. This group is composed of St. Croix, St. Thomas, and St. John. Visiting these islands offers a bit more than just your standard beach vacation with diverse architecture (evidence of nations that colonized the islands in the 17th and 18th centuries) and culinary encounters, artisan fairs, and most fun of all if you time it right: Carnivals.

The islands have a long history of habitation starting with the first inhabitants, the Ciboneys  before 100 AD. There were various natives before Christopher Columbus visited on his 2nd voyage in 1493, claiming the islands for Spain. The battle between the natives and Columbus on the island of St. Croix is known as the first insurgence in the New World. Columbus continued his exploration leaving the islands largely inhabited and many counties began expressing interest in the 1600s. It was the Danish who established the first settlement on St. Thomas in 1672 and expanded to the other islands while establishing the Danish West India Company in 1733. St. Thomas became a trading post mostly for slave trading with more than 200,000 slaves forcibly shipped to the islands. St John and St. Croix were maintained as plantations supporting the trade economy. With Denmark ceasing human trade in 1792 and the discovery of sugar beet (instead of sugar cane) agriculture began to decline and the need for the islands as a shipping port with the industrial revolution also changed the economic environment. 
Little was heard of the islands until World War I, when the United States realized their strategic position and negotiated the purchase of the islands from Denmark for $25 million in gold. Now the islands are thriving destinations for tourism and I’m glad I got to see at least one of them on this trip. I’ll definitely have to take a trip back to experience the other beautiful islands. 
What to do on stop over?
With the close proximity of other islands, it’s really possible to do just about anything: Snorkel with rays, explore historic towns, taste test the best restaurants around, visit the most scenic beaches, or get a birds eye view of it all from the top of St. Thomas!
We found a fair priced tour to Magen’s beach and skyride so for ease of planning on this trip, we went ahead and booked that. 
We were picked up right outside our cruise ship by a local who drove us (and a fair few other people) around for the day in an open jeep – like tram. We stopped at 2 scenic pull outs as we crossed over the top of St. Thomas to drive down the other side to Magens bay.
The first view point had awesome views of the cruse port and St. Thomas bay. 
 Multiple islands in the distance we visible from this spot 
Our 2nd stop would look down on Magen’s Bay itself: 

Magens Bay sits on the North Atlantic side  of St. Thomas and is one of the world’s most beautiful beaches with pristine white sand stretching ¾ of a mile. The beach doesn’t get much wave action making it wonderful for floating and lounging in the warm water. (but not so much for snorkeling with the sand) You can see many varieties of fish and occasionally sea turtles, and in our case, enjoy the many types of water fowl that would make dive after dive fishing just off shore. The entrance to the beach (if not on a tour where it is included) costs $5 with free  picnic tables, toilets and public showers. There’s additional covered table spaces available for rent as well as snorkeling and beach gear and snacks for purchase.  
When we first got to the beach it was a bit overcast so we took a long walk to one end of the beach and back admiring shells and watching the birds dive.

Once the sun came out, the water was perfect and we spent at least an hour playing in the warm subtle waves. Overall I couldn’t have asked for a better beach day/ stop along our week long cruise. 
After a couple hours we cleaned up and re-boarded our jeep-bus to head back to the port and ride the sky ride to the summit of the island- Paradise Point. It was a short wait with a fun ride, and stunning views from the top looking right down on the cruise ships in the bay. At the top is a restaurant and some tourist shops that you can enjoy before heading back down to the port. We looked around for some souvenirs while walking the short distance back to our ship. All in all a beautiful day on a beautiful island. Next time I’ll definitely have to try the snorkeling or more adventurous sports
We scored a skyride cabin to ourselves 
View of the 3 cruise ships halfway up 
The sky ride heading back down after dropping us off
View from the tip top.  Beautiful bay! 
Other activities to try on St. Thomas or around the 
US Virgin Islands : 
Swimming/ Snorkeling at Trunks Bay St. John
Cruzan Rum Distillery Tour
Exploring main street St. Thomas
Buck Island National Monument (St. Croix) for diving/ snorkeling
Estate Whim Plantation Museum (St. Croix)
Cinnamon Bay swimming/ beach – St. John 
Take an Island Catamaran tour 
Hike the Reef Bay Trail do a secluded beach – St John 
Dive/snorkel the RMS Rhone
View of the port from our private deck on the ship
Virgin Island Culinary Specialties to try:
Pumpkin Fritters (tried on the ship and delicious) 
Kallaloo (meat dish) 
Red Grout (guava tapioca) 

See you another time US Virgin Islands! 

Why go on a cruise?

Why go on a cruise?
As somebody who loves to travel and also frequently talks to other travelers, the general opinion of  that cruises are boring and that though you are technically traveling, you don’t ever actually “experience” the places you go. So if you love to travel, why take one?

1. Easy to plan with large groups
Cruises are by far the easiest vacation to plan, they already provide for you lodging, meals, entertainment, and options for things to do ashore.  Essentially, no matter the group you’re going with, there’s something for everyone and all you have to organize is your flight from various places to get there. 

2. It’s relaxing
This goes hand in hand with how easy to plan stuff is. You can spend 10+ hours in a lounge chair reading if you want to! Parents? There’s a kid care where your kids still have supervised fun but you still get to relax! There’s no where you really have to be so relax all you want! 
Our balcony room on the Carnival Magic 

3. Experience multiple islands to decide which ones you might be interested visiting more later
Here is one that I think should really be mentioned to the travel snobs who think they’re too good for cruises. (You can use this argument if you need to) Yes you only have a day or even less in ports, but have you spent 5 days at a beach resort on an island? It’s the same idea if you want to do anything interesting on the island, you end up taking excursions/ tours. Most smaller Caribbean islands quite fairly can be explored in a day as well and don’t need a full week. By taking a cruise you get snap shots of different islands and from there you can decide if there is more to do and see to require a full on visit at a future date. 

4. It’s a foodie’s paradise
And I can’t say this enough really… but my favorite parts of a cruise are relaxing and… EATING! The dining rooms provide breakfast and dinners with multiple courses and options every day! For lunch, most ships have a multitude of specialized food stands along with a buffet line. Example of fine dining for me: 
Breakfast: Brulee’d grapefruit, coffee, pineapple juice, a croissant, Omelet and or Avocado Toast, finished with a vanilla French toast. 
For lunch options we’d enjoy burritos/ tacos, Guy Ferreri’s sponsored burgers and/ or BBQ, and pizza! 
For dinner, back to sit down we’d get a soup (hot or chilled), another small appetizer, then salmon/prime rib/ lobster/ shrimp pastas/ or special “port of call” delicacies, and for dessert the crowning jewel: Baked Alaska or cheesecakes, and so many other options. Then you add in 24/7 pizza and ice cream cones for a midnight snack… you may gain pounds but you’ll never eat as well as you do on a cruise.
5. Great entertainment 
From karaoke, piano bars, big production shows, trivia nights, shopping specials, art auctions, bingo, small live music everywhere, and standup comedy… cruise ships are built to entertain.
On days at sea you have so many different choices of entertainment, be it specific kid activities, pools, water slides and splash pads, exercising, ropes courses, mini golf/ deck games, trivia games inside, gambling, sleeping, and my favorite: eating. Every evening there’s a movie on the lido deck under the stars, a large production show in the theater, and comedians doing standup comedy. 
Every. Evening.
Braden scoring one for his team while playing basketball somewhere in the middle of the Caribbean

6. Awesome Value for everything
Awesome value (most of the time)- If you aren’t traveling over a holiday, they really can be a steal. (just not if you plan on drinking… seriously that’s where they make their money.) This is particularly a great way to vacation if you live near a cruise port as well and don’t have to buy flights. (I would cruise way more if I didn’t have to fly to a port) 
While most of the time cruises are priced low, if you wish to travel during holiday seasons, the prices will be higher. (although not any higher than traveling other places)
They can be crowded ( again especially around holidays or on new ships). Even on the Carnival Magic at full capacity I didn’t feel terribly crowded. We just ate in the dining room more to avoid the buffet lines on the lido deck and made sure to get up early enough to snag some lounge chairs.
Shore excursions are limited time, expensive, and can be underwhelming. Counter argument here is to skip the excursion and explore the port, take a taxi, or book an adventure with a local company. (just be aware of your port times and what you realistically have time for)
Maybe not for those with motion sickness. Tip: use a motion sickness patch or non drowsy pill. Also book your stateroom on a lower deck towards the center of the ship.

Avoid Hurricane season (late summer) if possible and if looking at touring Alaska, the Mediterranean, or destinations further North, book during the warmest months for those sites to ensure you will get quality time in the sun on the deck. 

Non edited/ filtered view of the sunset from our private balcony

Which cruise line to choose? 
Carnival: Very family friendly with awesome kid care activities, fun deck amenities, foods, and larger state rooms. Not to mention one of the friendliest to the budget so if paying for more family members, this goes a long way.
Princess Cruises: The older adult crowd but still fairly budget friendly. This cruise line is also owned by Carnival, specializes in longer cruises, and includes activities like cooking classes and even history lectures. (So.. not the most kid friendly)
Royal Caribbean: Another budget/ family friendly option- a toss up when it comes to which is better, but from what I’ve heard and read- carnival offers a lot more entertainment nightly than Royal Caribbean.
Disney Cruises: Over priced for the value but if you LOVE Disney (particualarly love Disney characters) than this might be for you. Excelllent entertainment but food and service wise- not really any better than the cheaper options.
Holland America: Rated one of the best for service with 1 member of staff for every 2-3 guests. This cruise line has some family friendly ships and some that are more adult oriented. Just make sure you check out the type of ship when you’re booking. Food and entertainment were not rated any higher than other cruise lines.
Celebrity Cruises– The highest rated cruise line for entertainment, service, food, overall value. I have no personal experience or know anyone that has been on one but I have eyed a few of their Mediterranean itineraries.
Whichever line you go with, (try to get a private balcony) explore online what the cruise ship has to offer as far as included dining and entertainment before you book so you know if it will fit with your family’s idea of fun. There’s definitely a cruise out there for everyone.